Kill the Messenger is based on a true story, and what a story it is! It is the tale of a journalist/whistleblower who had the guts to publish the truth about the CIA’s complicity in bringing crack cocaine to our inner cities in order to fund a war Congress wouldn’t pay for. And what did he get for it? He was demonized by his peers and hounded out of the profession. It is no All the President’s Men, which you can feel it trying to be at times, but it is another sickening story of people in high places feeling they are above the law, and an intrepid reporter stumbling into the story that blows the lid off their dirty little secrets. Jeremy Renner plays real life journalist Gary Webb, and it is his performance that keeps you watching. It is at times heartbreaking.
It is 1996, and Gary Webb is a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News. He is given a grand jury transcript by a mysterious woman that leads him to the trial of huge drug dealer who is forced to admit under oath that he was in cahoots with the CIA. This leads to Webb researching and writing his explosive Dark Alliance series detailing how the CIA brought crack to Los Angeles and other cities as a way to raise money for weapons to arm the Nicaraguan contras in express defiance of Congress. At first Webb is lauded and the story makes waves around the world, but before he can catch his breath and dig deeper, the CIA is pushing back, the other media outlets turn on him, and his reputation is torn to shreds. His sources disappear or recant. There are people sneaking around outside his house. He is demoted at work to doing human interest stories. And there is nothing he can do to save himself.
Jeremy Renner is the perfect actor to portray this small town reporter who discovers the scoop of a lifetime only to be crushed by the powerful. His face registers every accolade and slight. And you really want him to come out on top, only you know he’s just the little guy, and he knows it, too. Kill the Messenger is very timely and serves as a clarion call to the courageous journalists of today who will go up against the powerful and bring these critical stories to life. This is not a big movie. It would be just as good on a plane or streaming at home, but it is one that should be seen by a lot of people. And it should be shown in every journalism school, just to make sure the students know the consequences of telling the truth to power.
For journalists’ take on the story and the media’s continued role in demonizing Webb, here is a thoughtful piece from some other reporters who were also reporting the story.