The emergence of crack cocaine in America was inevitable, though, wasn’t it?
The difference is that it wasn’t wholesaled in the same way. And you couldn’t get the cocaine in those neighbourhoods. [Ricky] Ross said this in the book. They didn’t know who to get the cocaine from before they could sell it. It was this drug ring that introduced this large quantity of cocaine into their neighbourhoods. And this was sort of on a collision course. Crack was coming up anyway, and it ran smack-out into these planeloads of cheap cocaine that the Contras were bringing in and you have an explosion, you have a crack cocaine explosion. And that’s essentially what my story is talking about. This collision of events.
How large were the quantities of cocaine that were coming in?
FBI reports (I got these not too long ago) [referring to the Blandon case - not any others] are talking about 2-300 kilos a week. And that’s an enormous amount of cocaine when you’re talking about breaking it down into crack and retailing it on the streets. You’re talking 1200 kilos a month. Not just for Los Angeles. For one NEIGHBOURHOOD in Los Angeles. It was all going into one area of the city.
This story generated a lot of controversy. How would you explain it all to a layman? How would you prove that this actually happened?
Ask the people that did it. Three independent people agree that this happened. The people that did it. I don’t know how much better you can get than the actual participants in the operation. [Ricky] Ross on the street is selling the cocaine and he’s getting it from Blandon, and Blandon is getting it from Meneses – and Blandon and Meneses are Contra supporters. And they admit that it happened.
Wasn’t there some controversy about whether Blandon and Meneses were actually Contra supporters or Contra officials? Or their actual roles?
No. They weren’t Contra officials, which is what everyone took that to mean, although Meneses says he had an official position in the organisation.
Is there any doubt at all that the money they were making through cocaine sales was actually going to the Contras?
No. Blandon admitted it under oath. Meneses admitted it. The US government has independent reports from people that they had inside that drug ring saying that this stuff was going to the contras.
So why was the allegation so controversial?
Because it implicated the US government in drug trafficking, and because we have this hysteria on drugs here in this country. So they couldn’t ever admit they were implicated in drug trafficking.
Are you a conspiracy theorist: JFK, Roswell etc?
I tend to maintain an attitude of ‘I don’t know what’s the truth until I’ve examined it myself.’ So I don’t know about JFK. I’ve never examined the issue. I’ve never thought about Elvis. I doubt very much Roswell is anything. But I know what I found. The thing that aggravated me is that when we were investigating this and they’d talk about it as this theory: its not a theory. It happened. And the people that did it have admitted it. So when do you pass from theory to fact? You know? What does it take? Unfortunately, for the American press it takes a confession from the government.
When and how did your story come out?
It came out three days in a row, not nearly enough words. Total about 12,000 words. There was more on the Internet because there was space there. 3-4000 words per day. The editors were so excited about it that they put up this web site, which we had never done before, to blast this thing all over the world, and they…the web site was mine but at the same time it was sort of a mission that we had from the editors of the paper to incorporate the web in your stories where you can – ’cause this was 95, 96: very early days. And I sat down and talked to the web page designers and I saw what we could do with this thing, which was just blast it. They were the leading edge. This had never been done before and they were very aware that this was going to be an event. And so a couple of days before the story came out they sent out newsnet messages saying ‘We’ve got something big coming out – stay tuned to our web site.’ …It was a very big deal for them.
And then it just snowballed?
It started out with a talk radio interview. People had heard about it because they had heard about it – seen it on the web somewhere…. When Time magazine finally got around to doing a column, this guy **** ****, he said he found out about it from his cleaning lady whose son had read it on the Web and told his mom and his mom had told somebody else and his cleaning lady told him about it and he got on the web and read it and he was astonished that he hadn’t heard anything about this in the mainstream press…and that’s sort of the way the thing went. Talk radio fed the web and the web fed talk radio and pretty soon the thing was all over the place.
You got something like 1.3 million hits in the first day, didn’t you?
You could see it in action. The day it hit 1.3 million hits I had been on NPR that morning, talking about this thing and right after the broadcast the hit rate went up enormously. It was very exciting. The Mercury people were sending me notes every couple of hours, saying ‘We’ve passed the million, we’re past 1.3 million’, and they were jumping up and down.
Your editors must have been wetting themselves with excitement?
They were, they were. They were getting calls from CBS and they were on the news. You know, it was a big deal
At this point they were still happy with the story?
They were delighted with it.
Did you feel that the story still represented what you wanted it to say?
They had trimmed it a lot and that was why it took so long to get in the paper because I had fought them every step of the way on cutting it. But – everything like that is a compromise. I thought that I had given them plenty. They knew what the story was about – they knew what the implications of it were.
They didn’t ask you to tone it down?
No, in fact it was the opposite. I had written the story a lot softer originally, because I was going to do it as a feature and they wanted it to be a big CIA story and I said, ‘Well, we could do that too, if you want.’ It wasn’t the way I preferred to do it but I could see the argument.
How soon was the backlash?
We printed in August and the first negative stuff started in late September, early October. It was Rupert Murdoch’s papers that started…the Weekly Standard, a sort of right-wing Washington paper…wrote a column saying that we don’t think it’s true.
What were their tactics in this?
First of all they claimed that these folks didn’t have anything to do with the Contras. But that was just bullshit and has since been proven untrue. That we didn’t say the fact that – we talked about millions of dollars going to the Contras but we didn’t label an estimate, because we didn’t know how many millions of dollars. Which I think is a fair criticism, I don’t have any problem with that.