Listening In On 'Which Way, L.A.?'

'Did the CIA help introduce crack cocaine in America's inner cities?" broadcaster Warren Olney asked in a controversial, Oct. 24 show last year.

"The agency's chief investigator told a committee yesterday there is no such evidence yet, but he asked for more time to get to the truth ...."

Next, phone-in guests - including area congresswomen, historians, both local and nationally based journalists, and area activists - were introduced and queried individually by Mr. Olney. Then in quick-fire questioning that has become his radio signature, Olney honed in on areas of agreement and disagreement, playing respondents off one another or throwing open the discussion.

To Juanine Millander McDonald, congresswoman from Watts: "How do you assess what we do and don't know about CIA involvement with crack cocaine?" Next, to Earl Ofari Hutchinson, black author, historian, and journalist: "Has the black community jumped to the conclusion that there must have been some sort of sinister government involvement in this?"

Back to Ms. McDonald: "Could [such] overreaction have a negative impact on the government's ability to get to the bottom of things?"

Next, to Los Angeles Times editor Leo Wollinsky: "Has your newspaper series put to rest the deep concerns raised [by other investigative reporters]?" Then back to McDonald: "Do you think that Mr. Wollinsky's comments are persuasive?"

McDonald: "I am not sure to the extent which we can believe the Times's statements or the others ...."

Olney: "Mr. Wollinsky, what are the sources ... Is there possibly more to this? ... Have you been at all premature?" And to Mr. Hutchinson: "Do you feel the Times is adequately sourced?"

Next, an unscheduled caller: Alan Fenster, attorney for convicted drug dealer Ricky Ross (alleged in some news reports to have been a conduit for Contras and street dealers). "The coverage that has so far existed in the print media ... [has ignored] all kinds of facts that have been out there for years."

Back to Wollinsky (following Fenster accusation): "Did the Times in fact have access to these materials and not print them?"

Summing up Olney's broadcast style is Daniel Garvey, president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists: "Warren Olney makes news represent what the framers of the First Amendment envisioned, a way of comprehending the complex issues of our time."

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