Few individuals fascinate the U.S. media like Ollie North. Few subjects grab more media attention than drugs. Few democracies win more media praise than Costa Rica. Mix these three into a single scandal and it spells Front Page News, right? Wrong. According to Extra!, the newsletter published by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), what it spells is “C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P.”
In July of 1989, North and other major contragate figures were barred from Costa Rica. The order was issued by none other than Oscar Arias Sanchez, president of Costa Rica and winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize for Peace. President Arias was acting on recommendations from a Costa Rican congressional commission investigating drug trafficking. The commission concluded that the contra re-supply network in Costa Rica which North coordinated from the White House doubled as a drug smuggling operation.
As a result of the commission’s findings, North, former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs, Major General Richard Secord, and former CIA station chief in Costa Rica Joseph Fernandez are barred from ever setting foot in Costa Rica again.
The commission’s probe of the contra network centered around the northern Costa Rican ranch of U.S. expatriate John Hull because of the quantity and frequency of drug shipments in the area. In a recent development, Hull was indicted for murder in Costa Rica in connection with the La Penca bombing in 1986. He is currently a fugitive after having fled Costa Rica where he was to be tried on drug trafficking and neutrality violation charges. According to Extra!, North’s personal notebook mentioned the “necessity of giving Mr. Hull protection.” North’s notebooks also contain dozens of references to contra-related drug trafficking, including one entry dated July 12,1985: “14 million to finance came from drugs.”
The reaction of the U.S. press to this story was one of complete indifference. It was not for lack of information however, considering the lengthy Associated Press wire report (7/22/89) which carried the story into virtually every newsroom in the United States. The mainstream media, however, either ignored the story completely, or, like the Washington Post and the Miami Herald, relegated it to “In Brief’ sections. Incredibly, The New York Times and all three major television networks failed to mention the story at all.
When FAIR contacted major media outlets to ask why the story had been buried or ignored, journalists offered no plausible answers. Typical was the response from Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, who stated, “Just because a congressional commission in Costa Rica says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.” Ironically, when criticized for giving uncritical coverage to U.S. officials’ often questionable statements about Central America, these same media have responded that “When leaders of a democracy make statements, it’s news and we have to cover it. We aren’t ruling on whether it’s true or not.”
When high-ranking officials of the “Just Say No” administration are banned — due to drug links — from Central America’s leading democracy, and the media fail to cover the story, it spells just one thing: C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P!
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: JOHN GILLES
SOURCE: EXTRA!, 130 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001, DATE: October/November 1989
TITLE: “CENSORED NEWS: OLIVER NORTH & CO. BANNED FROM COSTA RICA”
COMMENTS: Given the ingredients of this story — the charismatic Ollie North, drugs, gun smuggling, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — one has to wonder why the press ignored this one. It also puzzled Jeff Cohen, director of FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a national media watchdog group. “Costa Rica’s banning of Oliver North and other leading U.S. officials was, to our knowledge, never mentioned on network TV news, in the newsweeklies, or The New York Times. It was mentioned twice in passing in the Washington Post. This lack of coverage persisted despite the fact that FAIR sent documentation of the story to every major national media outlet, and despite the fact that AP dispatched a lengthy report on the subject,” Cohen said. Looking back at the issue, Cohen said FAIR pushed the story as hard as they ever pushed any story but to no avail. “At the same time Ollie North’s banning over drug-linked activities was being ignored by the media, they continually covered North’s lectures about the evils of drugs, his community service that was to help inner city youth avoid drugs, his bullet-proof vest business, and other North stories that were relatively trivial,” Cohen added.