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Babies born to mothers who use cocaine during pregnancy are often prematurely delivered, have low birth weights and smaller head circumferences, and are shorter in length than babies born to mothers who do not use cocaine.26,29,30 Dire predictions of reduced intelligence and social skills in babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant during the 1980s were grossly exaggerated. However, the fact that most of these children do not show serious overt deficits should not be overinterpreted to indicate that there is no cause for concern.
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This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the "crack" capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America . . . and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons.
Stories had previously been written about the Contras' alleged ties to drugtrafficking. For example, on December 20, 1985, an Associated Press article claimedthat three Contra groups "engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help financetheir war against Nicaragua." Rumors about illicit activities on the part of theContras had also been probed in Senate hearings in the late 1980s. However, the MercuryNews series contained -- or at least many readers interpreted it to contain -- a newsensational claim: that the CIA and other agencies of the United States government wereresponsible for the crack epidemic that ravaged black communities across the country. Thenewspaper articles suggested that the United States government had protected Blandon andMeneses from prosecution and either knowingly permitted them to peddle massive quantitiesof cocaine to the black residents of South Central Los Angeles or turned a blind eye tosuch activity.
The Mercury News later proclaimed that the article did not make theseallegations. However, notwithstanding the Mercury News' proclamations, involvementby the CIA and the United States government in the crack crisis was implied throughoblique references and the juxtaposition of certain images and phrases in the DarkAlliance articles: the Contras, who purportedly received drug money from Blandon andMeneses, were referred to as the "CIA's army" and links between the CIA and theleadership of the Contra movement were repeatedly emphasized throughout the articles; thestories reported how investigations into Blandon's cocaine operation conducted by the DrugEnforcement Administration (DEA) were allegedly dropped without cause or shunted aside forunexplained reasons; the articles told how United States prosecutors invoked theClassified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) to prevent certain testimony concerningBlandon from being presented to a jury in the interest of national security during Ross'federal trial; and, from August 1996 until October 1996, the image of a crack smokersilhouetted against the emblem of the CIA was emblazoned on the Mercury News webpage carrying the Dark Alliance stories.
The news media picked up on the Mercury News series' insinuation and made itexplicit in coverage of the series. On August 20, 1996, the headline of the first articleto cover the Mercury News series, published by the Associated Press, stated,"Newspaper Alleges that CIA Helped Spark Crack Cocaine Plague." It was followedby other articles and editorials declaring that the crack cocaine crisis had been createdby the CIA and/or agents of the United States government: "CIA's War AgainstAmerica," (Palm Beach Post, September 14, 1996); "The U.S. Government Wasthe First Big Crack Pusher," (Boston Globe, September 11, 1996); "Thanksto the U.S. Government, Oscar Blandon Reyes is Free and Prosperous Today; One Man isBehind L.A. Tide of Crack," (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, September 16,1996).
Critics and commentators would later debate whether the Mercury News articles infact accused the United States government of being responsible for the nation's crackcocaine epidemic. In an October 2, 1996, Washington Post article, Gary Webb, thereporter who wrote the Dark Alliance series, asserted that the article had not claimedthat the CIA knew about Blandon's drug trafficking. The Washington Post articlequoted Webb as saying, "We've never pretended otherwise . . . This doesn't prove theCIA targeted black communities. It doesn't say this was ordered by the CIA.. . .Essentially, our trail stopped at the door of the CIA. They wouldn't return my phonecalls." Webb would say as late as June 22, 1997, in an interview with TheRevolutionary Worker, "We had The Washington Post claim that the storieswere insinuating that the CIA had targeted Black America. It's been a very subtledisinformation campaign to try to tell people that these stories don't say what they say.Or that they say something else, other than what we said. So people can say, well, there'sno evidence of this, you know . . . You say, well, this story doesn't prove that top CIAofficials knew about it. Well, since the stories never said they did, of course theydon't."(1)
According to The Washington Post, Mercury News editor Jerry Cepposstated that he was troubled by the interpretive leap many people made about the article'sclaims of CIA involvement in the growth of crack cocaine. Ceppos was quoted as saying,"Certainly talk radio in a lot of cities has made the leap. We've tried to correct itwherever we could . . . People [have been] repeating the error again and again andagain." Approximately a month and a half after the Dark Alliance series was posted onthe Mercury News website, the newspaper changed the introduction to the articles,in apparent recognition that certain wording had contributed to the misunderstanding.Rather than stating:
Many African-American leaders were particularly troubled by the articles, mindful ofthe frequency with which young black men were being incarcerated for drug offenses. If theMercury News was right, it appeared that the same government that was arresting somany black men had played a role in creating the drug crisis that precipitated theirarrest. This point was emphasized by the Mercury News' Dark Alliance series, whichincluded articles entitled, "War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans;Contras case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A. dealer faceslife"; and "Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity; In 1993, cracksmokers got 3 years; coke snorters got 3 months." The president of the Los Angeleschapter of the NAACP issued the following statement in response to the Dark Allianceseries: "We believe it is time for the government, the CIA, to come forward andaccept responsibility for destroying human lives." In a letter dated August 30, 1996,Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) andthe House Judiciary Committee conduct investigations of the allegations. The CongressionalBlack Caucus and many leaders in the black community also insisted upon an investigationinto the charges raised by the Mercury News.
As noted above, the Mercury News series was not only a story about the UnitedStates government and crack cocaine. It also revisited allegations concerning the Contrasand drug trafficking that has been reported upon and investigated for many years. In 1987,the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations of the SenateCommittee on Foreign Relations began an investigation focusing on allegations received bythe subcommittee chairman, Senator John Kerry, concerning illegal gun-running andnarcotics trafficking associated with the Contras. A two-year investigation produced a1,166-page report in 1989 analyzing the involvement of Contra groups and supporters indrug trafficking, and the role of United States government officials in these activities.Allegations of cocaine trafficking by Contras also arose during the investigationconducted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh into the Iran-Contra affair. Drugtrafficking allegations, however, were not the focus of that inquiry and the Walsh reportincluded no findings on these allegations.
And if Blandon is to be believed, there is no connection between Contras and the cause of the crack epidemic because Blandon said Ross was already a well-established dealer with several ready sources of supply by the time he started buying cocaine from Blandon.
The first installment of the Los Angeles Times series was devoted to adiscussion of the origins of crack cocaine. It found that crack cocaine existed in LosAngeles long before Ross began selling it. In response to the claim that Ross had played aprincipal role in bringing cocaine to South Central Los Angeles, it identified severaldrug dealers from South Central Los Angeles who were contemporaries of Ross and werereputed to have sold similar quantities of cocaine.
Despite the major newspapers' mounting criticism of the Dark Alliance series, the MercuryNews continued to defend i