Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Dr. Jennifer Reynolds

First Reader

Dr. Magdalena Stawkowski

Second Reader

Dr. Magdalena Stawkowski


In 1996, Gary Webb and the San Jose Mercury News unleashed a media firestorm over his “Dark Alliance” series of newspaper articles, which detailed CIA involvement in the Los Angeles crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. The series alleged that a drug ring in L.A. sold tons of crack to a primarily African-American population in the city, with profits then smuggled back to Nicaragua to a group of CIA-backed Contras. The series resulted in four separate investigations into CIA wrongdoing, including one by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, which concluded that there were “serious questions as to whether or not US officials… failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war against Nicaragua.”[1] I argue that the Dark Alliance, although flawed due to some exaggerated claims of causality, represents an important case study in press and CIA accountability and the ways in which newscraft and statecraft intersect. This thesis examines the validity of Webb’s claims of CIA wrongdoing, as well as the press coverage of the events of the series. Additionally, this thesis studies the effects of the crack cocaine epidemic on Los Angeles communities and how that drove conspiratorial beliefs after the publication of the Dark Alliance; largely because of Reagan-era drug enforcement policies and structural vulnerabilities within these communities, African-Americans were severely affected by the impact of crack cocaine, compounding conspiratorial beliefs. Finally, this thesis discusses the overarching themes of secrecy and conspiracy, including the ways in which mass media can play contradictory roles in the production of ‘public opinion’.

First Page


Last Page



© 2022, Jakob Miller