Why all the pressure on a single investigative journalist? Because the journalist, Gary Webb, was investigating the origins of the Iran-Contra scandal. Why my interest?
Because I wrote a similar screenplay about Iran-Contra and hope to see this critical story well-told on the silver screen.
Iran-Contra unfolded back in the mid-1980s, when South and Central America formed an always-necessary axis of evil for the Reagan administration. Back then, you could still do anything you in the name of anti-communism. And thanks to the post-Vietnam depression and the “Arab” oil embargo — the Middle Eastern hordes were once again our enemies.
Iran-Contra proved how effective ideological hysteria and xenophobia can push the American people to accept any outrage. This, I hope, is what “Kill the Messenger” is all about.
Back in 1986, government "advisers" coordinated a money-laundering scam designed to help the CIA, the weapons industry and the Reagan Admin fight an illegal war in Central America while they failed to negotiate the release of the longest-held American hostages in history, the U.S. embassy staff in Tehran.
Reagan's Central-American war was illegal; Congress had banned attempts at overthrowing Nicaragua's sovereign government. Reagan was doing it anyway.
Thanks to the manipulations of little-known Reagan denizens like Oliver North and Eliot Abrams, the scammed money flowed into a White House basement office from two very different directions.
Direction one — Our boys in the basement offered U.S.-made missiles and other weaponry to Iran, our sworn enemy who was still holding the U.S. embassy hostages.
Direction two — the CIA hooked up drug cartels north and south of our border to expedite the injection of force-fed cocaine into the United States. Profits flowed into Iran-Contra coffers.
The L.A. ghetto served as ground zero for this second effort and created a win-win situation for the CIA — crack helped destroy the social fabric and economy of a major, uppity African-American community while it generated cash for the Reagan-backed Contras.
Called "Freedom Fighters" by the Reagan Administration, the Contras were a rag-tag blend of child soldiers, rounded-up conscripts from Honduras and El Salvador and mercenaries led by American advisors and Nicaraguan military people displaced by Nicaragua's new socialist government.
Profit from the east/west guns-and-drugs caper was then funneled secretly into Central America via drug cartels to fund the Contras or "Freedom Fighters" as Reagan termed them. All of this was coordinated by former Marine Captain Oilver North and others out of the White House basement. Hard to believe? Yeah, well, as a friend once said, 'you can't make this shit up.'
All this brings us back to "Kill the Messenger" and why I find the current re-surfacing of the scandal so fascinating.
Years ago, I wrote the same story in "Down to Sleep," a feature film script that began with the murder of an brash young reporter who had gotten too close to the Reagan/CIA Iran arms-to-cocaine, cash-from-ghetto scourge that was brokered through the White House basement.
I had first learned of all these shady dealings from a brief series of articles written for The Nation by investigative reporter Alexander Coburn, who was often right-on but — because he was such a curmudgeon — he was easily dismissed.
At the time, I was playing jazz in a Hilton Hotel. The drummer was as fascinated by this outrageous network as I was and we fed each other's brains from what we read as Iran-Contra was first exposed, stone by upturned stone.
I finished “Down to Sleep.” It needed work (they always do) but it as right as it was ragged and all they players were there. I got an agent interested. I thought it was weird when I pitched “Down to Sleep” that this very Brentwood purveyor knew about the early, obscure reports that were unfolding about Iran-Contra.
A week later — on the same day that a posse of LA cops were found 'not guilty' in the Rodney King beating and the city began to burn — the Brentwood agent told me to forget about it. She had just sold the script of another writer who had developed a script on the same subject.
Of course she knew what I was talking about in our pitch meeting — not from The Nation, but from the other writer.
After I stopped hollering, I drove away from the agent's office and sat down in my office, looking out at a nest a pair of doves had built in a tree just outside my desk window. I watched their still-featherless offspring totter around their treetop home. How sweet, I thought, how simple...
The phone rang. I picked up the receiver, loathe to relate, but I was in Hollywood. You never knew. A writer friend was on the line.
"Charlie, I will never have faith in this city again," she said, in tears.
"Tell me about it," I said. " My script..."
"Never mind that!" she snapped. "The Simi Valley jury found those LAPD guys who beat Rodney King..."
"Not guilty. And all of South Central L.A. is going up in flames. Turn on your television." She hung up.
I didn't have to turn on the television. I could look out my office window, past the treetop with the baby doves in their nest and see the angry yellow smoke rising out of a community that had been driven mad by poverty, racism, and the CIA’s influx of crack cocaine.
So now, somebody has finally made a film about the man who uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal. Good. It's about time. Let’s hope “Kill the Messenger” lives up to its promise.