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Broken Alliance

Last Sunday, Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos wrote what amounts to a retraction of his newspaper's celebrated and notorious "Dark Alliance" series, which linked the CIA and the crack epidemic. Ceppos' column comes when Gary Webb, the reporter who broke the story 10 months ago, claims to have uncovered damning new evidence connecting the CIA to a pipeline which supplied guns and cash to the Nicaraguan contras in return for cocaine. ... Webb told Eye in a phone interview Monday that he has "documentation of the top-ranking CIA official who was aware of the drugs-for-arms sales." ... Webb declined to give up the name to Eye, claiming allegiance to his employers. Meanwhile, Ceppos is casting doubt on Webb's professional abilities. ... Since the publication of "Dark Alliance," Ceppos has steadily backed away from the series. Finally, in a column in Sunday's "Perspective" section, he attempted to wash his hands completely by writing that parts of the series "did not meet our standards." ... The Mercury News hasn't published any of Webb's work since last December. But the investigative reporter isn't giving up. "I'm still hoping that the Mercury is going to put this in the paper some day," Webb said. "I've been going on this nonstop since August. I'm going to still work with the paper and try to get this published." Asked what he will do if the Mercury becomes a dead end for his investigations, Webb replied, "I will find somewhere to publish them." ... When Eye asked if the Merc would print the name of the "top CIA operative" if Webb provided it, Ceppos did not hesitate. "Sure," Ceppos said. "He has given us story ideas and we are absolutely going to look at them." As for Webb, he's sticking to his story. "There is so much evidence that what we printed is true, and frankly the Merc has the responsibility to tell the whole story." ... A front-page story in this Tuesday's New York Times called Ceppos' Sunday column "highly unusual," and quoted a CIA spokesman gushing with gratitude that the Merc had backed away from the story. The Times also quoted several journalists who had gone to bat for Webb and the Mercury in the face of criticism following publication of the original series. For those keeping score, this mea culpa represents the second time the Merc has publicly eaten crow since Ceppos inherited the executive editor's mantle in January 1995. On April 27, 1996, Merc writer Miranda Ewell, citing undisclosed sources, reported that "San Francisco's two daily newspapers are 'about a week away' from closing a deal to shut down the afternoon Examiner and run a jointly owned morning newspaper." ...''The deal is essentially done,'' she quoted her source as saying. "The details will be wrapped up in a week or so.'' A year later, San Francisco columnists Rob Morse and Phillis Orrick are still chuckling over that piece of ostensible news, which the Merc has yet to retract.

Playing Doctor

When Eye discovered that the California Medical Board filed an official complaint against San Jose physician Loc Q. Duong for alleged bookmaking, Eye did the natural thing: It called Duong's office to try and place a bet. According to the Medical Board, Duong was fined and placed on probation last year for allegedly taking bets on college and professional sporting events at his medical office. Some of his clients included, according to the Medical Board, other physicians and surgeons. Eye is very keen on the Utah Jazz this year, with power forward Karl Malone in MVP form. With the Jazz in Los Angeles to play the lame-o Lakers on Saturday, Eye found the spread hard to resist. Hundreds of miles from Las Vegas, Eye called Duong's office to put some money on the Jazz to win. The receptionist, who spoke broken English, seemed confused.

EYE: Yeah, I'd like to put $50 on the Jazz to beat the Lakers.


EYE: I'd like to place a bet on a basketball game.

RECEPTIONIST: Uhh, sorry. This is a doctor's office.

EYE: You mean you don't take bets?

RECEPTIONIST: What do you mean?

EYE: I put money on a game with the hope of making more money.

RECEPTIONIST: We don't do that.

EYE: Oh, well, the Medical Board said you used to take bets.

RECEPTIONIST: No, we don't know. Thank you.

The Jazz, by the way, blew out the Lakers.

Damn, We're Dull

To the north in prurient San Francisco, the political power elite throws parties that push the edges with strippers, sadomasochism, skin-carving and new uses for liquor bottles. Here in the South Bay political parties barely merit column mentions, even on slow news weeks. Take new south county supe Don Gage's inaugural celebration attended by the local political glitterati last week. The evening began with a smartly clad choir of young men and women who regaled the audience with hymns of yore, filled with plenty of wholesome references to Jesus Christ, God and things holy. Eye could tell that bondage and black leather were the furthest things from these happy youngsters' musical minds. The boys in the choir finished with a naughty little number about a married man who wished he could be single again. It was truly a night of gaiety--in the pre­sexual revolution, Anglo-Saxon, Christian sense of the word, of course.

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From the My 15-21, 1997 issue of Metro

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