NOT-SO-HOT COPY IN SAN JOSE

A NEWSPAPER BACKS OFF A BIG SCOOP, BUT RIVALS SHOULDN'T GLOAT

It was the sort of sensational investigative story that brings a newspaper attention, praise, often prizes. A three-part series in the San Jose Mercury News last August, the product of a year's work by reporter Gary Webb, alleged that the crack epidemic in inner-city Los Angeles was largely started by Nicaraguan drug suppliers who introduced the new form of cocaine into the ghetto and used the profits to help support the antigovernment rebels known as contras.

Most explosively, the series suggested CIA complicity in, or at least knowledge of, the operation. Hyped by provocative headlines (the series was titled "Dark Alliance")...

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