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Letters to the editor

February 11, 2005 | Page 4

Inspiring protest of the inauguration
Ordered not to smoke at home
Examining the secrecy of child abuse

A journalist brave enough to tell the truth

Dear Socialist Worker,
In December, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Gary Webb committed suicide at the age of 49.

The tragedy of Webb's death is not simply the loss of a great reporter. It's the fact that Webb's career--and life--was ripped apart by the very same people in the mainstream media who rushed to break the news of his death.

Webb is best remembered as the trail-blazing journalist who, in the 1996 San Jose Mercury News series "Dark Alliance," broke the story of the CIA's involvement in trafficking cocaine into inner-city Los Angeles. In his exhaustive report, Webb uncovered evidence that during the 1980s, right-wing drug dealers in Latin America had helped to finance a CIA-run covert war in Nicaragua--reaping the profits of selling tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs, which in turn sold it through Black neighborhoods nationwide in the form of crack cocaine.

The most galling part of the story, as Webb wrote on the CounterPunch Web site in 2001, was that "all the available evidence pointed to the sickening conclusion that elements of the U.S. government had known of it and had either tacitly encouraged it or, at a minimum, done absolutely nothing to stop it."

Yet once the story broke, the mainstream press and government officials savagely attacked Webb. "The national news media, instead of using its brute strength to force the truth from our government, decided that its time would be better spent investigating me and my reporting," Webb wrote. "They kicked me around pretty good, I have to admit." At one point, Webb was even accused of making a movie deal with a drug dealer he'd written about--and the Drug Enforcement Agency raided his agent's office trying (and failing) to back up the claim.

In the face of such a vicious assault, the Mercury News caved, retracting the story, and used Webb as a sacrificial lamb for the media hounds. Webb was demoted--later quitting the paper--and he saw his career trashed in print by such bastions of "journalistic integrity" as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Yes, the very same New York Times that peddled Bush administration lies about "weapons of mass destruction" in the run up to the Iraq war. Yes, the same Washington Post whose former owner Katherine Graham once told a room full of CIA recruits that "democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

Now, even in death, the public trashing of Webb has continued. In its obituary, the Los Angeles Times labeled Webb's career following the Dark Alliance story as "troubled," and made sure to say that a later report of Webb's--accusing the California Highway Patrol of unofficially condoning and even encouraging racial profiling in its drug interdiction program--was "based mainly on assumptions and anecdotes."

Webb's death is another reminder of just how low the mainstream press will sink in order to keep from telling the stories that matter--and why we desperately need an alternative media that can tell our side.
Nicole Colson, Chicago

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Inspiring protest of the inauguration

Dear Socialist Worker,
More than 1,000 (1,500, according to the estimate of the police department) people gathered in downtown Austin, Texas, to protest the second Bush inauguration on January 20.

Most of the crowd met at the Capitol Building before marching down Congress Avenue for a final rally on the Congress Avenue Bridge. Hundreds of students from local high schools energized the demo by walking out of their classes to attend the event.

At the bridge, the cops used lines of motorcycles to herd people back onto the sidewalks. Three protesters were arrested after an altercation with the cops in which one demonstrator was tazered.

The cops later were forced to allow protesters to move from the crowded sidewalks of the bridge into the street.

After a very spirited final rally, protesters marched to the Travis County Justice Complex to express their solidarity with those who had been arrested. All three were eventually released the next day.

The protest was the largest and most lively antiwar demonstration Austin has had in months. Many of the participants had sympathetic ears for radical politics. With the Bush administration on the offensive since the recent elections in the U.S. and in Iraq, local activists around the country need to seize the opportunity that small struggles can provide in reaching a larger audience in the near future.
Michael Hardin, Austin, Texas

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Ordered not to smoke at home

Dear Socialist Worker,
According to the Detroit News, the Michigan-based company Weyco is firing employees for smoking tobacco--on their own time, in their own homes! Unbelievably, smokers who aren't enrolled in a program to help them quit are fined $50 a month by the company.

Weyco just fired four employees for refusing to submit to tobacco breath tests and has forced 20 others to quit smoking so they can keep their jobs. "We are saying people can smoke if they choose to smoke--that's their choice," Gary Climes, Weyco's chief financial officer, disingenuously sneered. "But they just can't work for us."

Weyco's argument is that employees who smoke have higher health care costs--and the company wants to up its profits by dropping workers who need more health care.

Weyco isn't alone; other businesses in Michigan have recently begun refusing to hire smokers. And, more and more, workplaces impose all kinds of health care restrictions on employees. Wal-Mart refuses to cover birth control for its employees because the Walton family is socially conservative--as though owning a business gives you the right to determine whether women can access reproductive health care!

As long as health insurance in this country is distributed through the workplace, workers will be under constant threat of having their personal lives controlled by their bosses. We need universal health care now.
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, New York City

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Examining the secrecy of child abuse

Dear Socialist Worker,
I greatly enjoyed seeing the film The Woodsman and agree with reviewer Elizabeth Lalasz that the movie is a courageous project ("The illness he fights every day," January 28). Many people forget that pedophiles are still people, and that people can change.

Kevin Bacon's character, Walter, however, makes a remark to the effect that the chances of him sexually abusing another child are fairly good. And here's the problem Lalasz cites of the "good" and "bad" pedophile. The recidivist rates for child sexual abusers seems to be a big issue in the discussion of rehabilitation; I hope that SW can provide some information on sexual abuse in a future issue.

The Woodsman's conclusion, however, doesn't necessarily leave the audience with the feeling that Walter is redeemed.

The movie explores child sexual abuse through several pairs of eyes. Walter's girlfriend tells that her three older brothers raped her repeatedly, but she'd never exposed them because they're all good, gentle, family men now. The cop who harasses Walter on his visits recounts a four year old "sodomized in half" to cement his righteousness to condemn sexual predators.

We are also brought inside the head of the pedophile across the street from Walter's apartment, as Walter uses the notebook meant for his journal to detail the stalking and grooming of school kids. And there is Robin, Walter's next intended victim, a pre-teen who, in the most powerful part of the film, admits tacitly that her father abuses her sexually.

This film is not just about one man's struggle to look at a child without lust or exploitation. The Woodsman is about the pervasive nature of child abuse in society and the secrecy surrounding this horrible oppression.

This story is neither melodramatic nor preachy. It will hopefully be accessible to a very wide audience, thanks to the casting of hip-hop stars Eve and Mos Def, '80s brat-packers Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick, Law and Order alumnus Benjamin Bratt, as well as comic actor David Allen Grier in a serious role as Walter's hard-ass boss.

I hope that The Woodsman inspires more movies that provoke audiences beyond popcorn and award ceremonies, so that one more oppression is placed in the dumpster of history.
Ian Weniger, Vancouver, British Columbia

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