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San Jose Mercury News Editor Trims on CIA-Crack Story


May-June 1997

Jerry Ceppos, the editor-in-chief of the San Jose Mercury News, published an editorial on May 11 admitting that the newspaper and the reporter who broke the CIA-crack cocaine story last fall made some errors. Ceppos apologized for mistakes made in covering the controversial story, and said that he regrets running the piece the way it was written (Howard Kurtz, "CIA series 'fell short,' editor says," Washington Post, May 13, 1997, p. A1; Todd Purdum, "Expose on Crack was flawed, paper says," New York Times, May 13, 1997, p. A1).

Ceppos cited four flaws in the series, titled "Dark Alliance," that made the piece unfit for publication according to his standards. First, the reporter, Gary Webb, "presented only one interpretation of complicated pieces of evidence." Second, the estimate of how much money was involved in the scheme was presented as fact, and not as an estimate. Third, "we oversimplified the complex issue of how the crack epidemic in America grew." And finally, the graphics and language in the report were possibly misleading.

The CIA welcomed the admission, but said it would be continuing its investigation into the allegations.

For background information on the CIA-Crack Allegations, see "CIA Says It Has No Record of Links to Drug Dealers; Crack Dealer Rick Ross Gets Life Sentence; CIA Director Faces Angry Crowd at Los Angeles Meeting," NewsBriefs, December 1996; "CIA Inspector General Extends Investigation of CIA-Contra Crack Cocaine Allegations; Senate Holds Intelligence Committee Hearings; Rep. Waters Mobilizes Anger Over the Allegations," NewsBriefs, November 1996; and "CIA Allegedly Linked to Crack Epidemic in Los Angeles; CIA Director Orders Investigation; African American Leaders Outraged; DEA Agents Supports Charges; Charges Minimized," NewsBriefs, October 1996.

The San Jose Mercury News series is located at