The 1996 publication of a three-part series titled "Dark Alliance" by reporter Gary Webb in the pages of the San Jose Mercury News is one of the greatest investigative coups and most shameful episodes in modern American journalism.
Many reporters had tried to unravel the connection between the CIA's anti-communism efforts in Central America and drug trafficking, but Webb was the first to provide a solid link between the agency and the U.S. crack cocaine market by detailing the relationship between two Nicaraguan Contra sympathizers and Los Angeles' biggest crack dealer.
As Ryan Grim notes in This Is Your Country High on Drugs, American involvement in the international drug market has going on for decades. It has funded other major-drug running organizations, most infamously revitalizing Lucky Luciano's heroin trafficking network during World War II.
Most of the nation's elite newspapers at first ignored "Dark Alliance." A public uproar, especially among urban African Americans, forced them to respond. What followed was a bizarre, unseemly and ultimately tragic scandal, one in which top news organizations closed ranks to debunk claims Webb never made, ridicule assertions that turned out to be true and ignore corroborating evidence when it came to light.
Depressed and broke, Webb killed himself in 2004.