Saint Gary Webb
“I Think the Day That Gary Died, God Said…”
By Charlie Hardy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
February 10, 2005
When I was in high school I had dreams of being a radio announcer someday. Forget television, it was hardly off the ground in Wyoming in the 1950’s.
After classes I would go to the studios of KFBC in the Plains Hotel in downtown Cheyenne and watch the announcers speaking behind the huge glass window. I could also see the latest news pouring out of the teletype machines that had UNITED PRESS and ASSOCIATED PRESS written on them in huge letters.
Then I would go to the local newspaper where the editor would let me have some of the old news that had come out of their teletype machines. At home I would run upstairs into the bathroom, close the door, and stand in a corner of the room with my hands cupped over my ears so that I could hear myself saying, “Here’s the latest news from the wires of the United Press.”
Another of my high school memories was the day that Sister Louie Marie opened the cabinet in our speech classroom and threatened that she would kill the two boys she had assigned to carry the Webcor tape recorder to her desk if they should happen to drop it. That day, for the first time, I heard my voice and I began saving money to buy my own Webcor. It took me more than a year to save the money. I think it cost about two hundred dollars and we had to drive to Denver to buy it. I was the only kid at school who had his own.
After school one day, another nun told me that a local radio station had called and they were interested in hiring a high school student to do broadcasting in the evenings and on weekends. She thought it might be a job possibility for me. Wow! She said that I might mention it to my best friend, but she also noted that he really didn’t need the job since his family had more than sufficient income. Mine didn’t.
A friend is a friend and so I told my friend. We both went for the interview but only I cried when I heard his voice come over the radio a few days later. For a while I hoped that the station was just trying him out and that my turn would come later. I was wrong.
Eventually I got a job at Safeway’s supermarket, bagging and carrying out groceries. In time I started stocking shelves and then became a cashier (“a checker” we were called in those days). I also ended up being paid double what my friend was making at the radio station-and that is what I needed more than anything else at that moment.
I suppose I should have learned something from the experience: never tell anyone about anything that could affect your chances of getting a job – not even your best friend. Don’t share your professional secrets.
My problem was that I was educated by some great nuns and not by future executives of Enron or Global Crossing. Somehow I was taught that happiness would come in doing what is right and not what is expedient, and that sharing was better than being stingy.
And that is where Narco News enters the picture, together with Gary Webb.
I didn’t know much about U.S. journalism when I went to Mexico in February 2003 as a professor at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. I only knew that it was doing a lousy and unfair job in its reporting on what was happening in Venezuela. I saw that another professor, Gary Webb, had once been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Sorry, that didn’t impress me. I had read that John F. Kennedy received one for his book, Profiles in Courage, because his father had used his influence.
If I had looked back one year at the fourteen 2002 Pulitzer Prize Journalism Awards I would have seen that seven went to the New York Times and that the other seven went to five other “major” U.S. papers: the Washington Post (2), the Los Angeles Times (2), the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and Newsday. That wouldn’t have impressed me either. It smacks of “sainthood” in the Catholic Church: if you are willing to pay enough you can get your favorite “holy person” declared a “saint.” But if you are like assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom the little people of El Salvador recognize as a saint, you get to be buried in the basement of the cathedral in the hopes that few people will remember how you struggled for justice. I simply don’t believe that the best reporting done in the U.S. today is being done by the major newspapers nor by the major wire services.
(It also says something to me that Gary got a Pulitzer Prize as a member of the San Jose Mercury News staff for its coverage of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake and its aftermath and not for his articles on the CIA. In the earthquake 62 people died. How many thousands died as a result of the CIA being involved with the Contras in Nicaragua and cocaine in the United States?)
But what did impress me was something that Al Giordano said to us professors before the school began: the School of Authentic Journalism was probably the only journalism school where the students got scholarships and where most of the professors had to pay their own way to attend. As the days went on, I reflected on that often. People like Gary Webb and Jeremy Bigwood were there because they felt they had something to share and because they believed in something not because they were going to get paid.
By the end of the course, students and professors had all shared and had all gained from one another’s wisdom and commitment.
Last night I reviewed Reed Lindsay’s comments on Gary and the notes he took from Gary’s presentation. I have some of those same notes somewhere. Reed didn’t have to share his notes. He did. And in Reed and in the other students and professors of the J-schools in Mexico and Bolivia, I sense that commitment to what is right and the willingness to share – values which the nuns back in high school taught me and which Gary Webb manifested.
I am no expert on suicide if that is what happened to Gary. My theory is that the human brain is something like an incredible computer. Sometimes the system gets overloaded and crashes. Sometimes wires get crossed.
I am also no expert on God, although I am a believer. I don’t think experts on God exist. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on that subject. Personally, I think the day that Gary died, God said, “Oh, shit.” I am also guessing that when Gary arrived in heaven he got a big hug for a job well done and that today God and Gary are probably having some good conversations about what might be needed to get the world back on the right track.
And I don’t wait for the Catholic Church or any other organized religion such as the LA Times or the Associated Press to ever declare Gary a saint. They won’t. But for whatever it is worth, in my opinion those who struggle for justice are saints and Gary is included in Charlie Hardy’s Book of Saints. I have even started writing a prayer to him. It begins, “Hi, Gary. Remember me? I still don’t know much about journalism but would you keep your eye on me so that I can keep pushing on?”
I’m also not waiting for a vision from Saint Gary. I already had one in Mexico in 2003.
Charlie Hardy, a former Catholic priest and longtime resident of Caracas, Venezuela, was a professor in the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in both 2003 and 2004. He is the author of the Cowboy in Caracas weblog.
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