‘Some stories too true to tell’ – roots of the fifth estate -when Monica Lewinsky buried the real story

The Clinton-Lewinsky story is back with Monica’s TedTalk.  It’s shameful we still have interest in that damn tale because there is so much fertile ground for social-political oversight that begs for investigation.  The fifth estate may have died with the infamous intern’s discovery but the causality was trust worthy news gathering.  A corpse was the investigation of the Contra/Drugs scandal first written by reporter Gary Webb. He was likely thrown under the bus.  The smearing of one reporter’s reputation to make a serious tyranny fade away is sad. The truth gets eaten up under ‘story fatigue’ and our eagerness to be entertained above being  informed becomes the next meal. The real story was how and why the U.S. Government and the CIA broke sacred trusts of its own people. Do no harm to our own citizens. Save and protect became a slogan not an oath. Cynicism went viral. The institution of the ‘free press’ anesthetized.

After watching the film ‘Kill the Messenger’ I was reminded of the investigative reportage and books I read over the years.  The movie takes place in less suspicious times but it is a reminder of where we have come. The 21stC fifth estate wasn’t even imagined yet. Now it appears that journalism, as a check on social excesses, is crippled. News has become entertainment and the value of an institution is now in question. The value of the bloggers and social media to be harbingers of investigative journalism is very much in doubt.

Hollywood of course is packaged propaganda too, like a good fictional retelling, there is little need for credentials.  As ‘Deep throat’ became an icon of protecting sources and news integrity, I became a skeptical news consumer during the ‘Watergate’ hearings.  Unlike the dirty laundry of Lewinsky/Clinton, the blanket of cover ups was pulled back and the expose  started a trend in news cynicism. Add in the more recent WikiLeaks phenomenon and a ‘Conspiracy theories’ movement is born.  Sadly, investigation and exposure now doesn’t seem to help people to be informed.  It’s now every man for himself on the web. The beauty of this trend for the truly evil people is that amongst all the ‘noise’ the truth becomes just ‘spin’.  Evil cannot be uncovered if after the filtering no one culpable is left accountable.

After Woodward and Bernstein’s famous story in the Washington Post broke, the ethical centre of journalism shifted.  It was the pre-Internet era. (‘Watergate‘) The IranContra stories may be more of a watershed for the media blizzard than even Watergate. (‘Understanding IranContra‘) Investigative reporters become the guerrilla foot soldiers.  Big oil, big guns and big Government figured out that media wasn’t the enemy.  The media was the new secret weapon.  Truth wasn’t important .  Only the perception of truth mattered.

From the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On‘ anthology, “… If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress  ….” (Glaser) 


Interesting that today the Washington Post sticks to the script. Columnist, Jeff Lean, poses the same flaws for the movie ‘Kill the Messenger’ as ‘Argo’ experienced. …based on a true story … – Al Smith

“…An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. That old dictum ought to hang on the walls of every journalism school in America. It is the salient lesson of the Gary Webb affair. It might have saved his journalism career, though it would have precluded his canonization in the new film “Kill the Messenger.” ( Leen)

–Gary Webb was a real person who wrote a real story, a three-part series called “Dark Alliance,” in August 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News, one of the flagship newspapers of the then-mighty Knight Ridder chain.(Leen)


AP. “San Jose Editor Admits to Crack Series Deficiencies.” Los Angeles Times. 12 May 1997. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://articles.latimes.com/1997-05-12/local/me-58016_1_san-jose-editor&gt;.

Blinds. Digital image. Morguefile. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/919842&gt;.

Glazer, Nathan. “A Word From Our Sponsor.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. < http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/books/review/Glazer-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 >.

Leen, Jeff. “Gary Webb Was No Journalism Hero, despite What ‘Kill the Messenger’ Says.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/gary-webb-was-no-journalism-hero-despite-what-kill-the-messenger-says/2014/10/17/026b7560-53c9-11e4-809b-8cc0a295c773_story.html&gt;.

News Media. Digital image. Morguefile. Apr. 2004. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://mrg.bz/BkBryY&gt;.

“Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs – The Iran-Contra Affairs.” Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs – The Iran-Contra Affairs. Brown University. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/n-contras.php&gt;.

“Watergate.” Washington Post. The Washington Post. Web. 03 Mar. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/timeline.html&gt;.



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