Journalist was target of CIA smear campaign

Universal is developing a feature called “Kill the Messenger” based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb.

The San Jose Mercury News reporter committed suicide after being the target of a smear campaign when he linked the CIA to a scheme to arm Contra rebels in Nicaragua and import cocaine into California.

Peter Landesman will write the screenplay, based on the two books the studio optioned: “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” by Webb, and Nick Schou’s “Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb.”

Scott Stuber will produce with Nick Wechsler; Naomi Despres and Landesman will be exec producers.

Webb was vilified by major newspapers after his series was published. His 1996 three-part series “Dark Alliance” implied that the CIA was a catalyst for the crack cocaine scourge in California. The film will posit that Webb was mostly right, and that the CIA sought to smear him to cover up a scandal.

“It’s the story of a reporter killed for telling the truth, and it’s poignant and relevant as the CIA and U.S. government continue to make nefarious deals with the devil for what they believe is the greater good,” Landesman said.

Schou, longtime reporter for the O.C. Weekly, befriended Webb while they chased similar stories about the explosion of crack in Orange County. Schou watched “Dark Alliance” quickly go from a career-making expose to a career-ending debacle for Webb, who was jobless and in a spiral of depression before ending his life in 2004.

Schou claims that the journo outlets that attacked Webb’s reporting practically ignored a 1998 CIA admission that Schou said validated Webb’s reportage.

Landesman, a former correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, has written articles on sex trafficking in the U.S. (which formed the basis for the film “Trade”), and an expose on Russian arms dealer Victor Bout. He just scripted a film about Watergate “Deep Throat” informant Mark Felt for U and Playtone.

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