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Subject of new 'Kill the Messenger' film an investigative journalism icon

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Posted at 9:57 AM, Oct 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-11 10:00:11-04

A new film opening around the nation this weekend tells the story of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who got his start with the E.W. Scripps Co.

“Kill the Messenger,” which stars Academy Award-nominated actor Jeremy Renner, details the work of newspaper reporter Gary Webb.

Webb became the target of a smear campaign after he exposed the CIA's role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.

After winning several awards writing for Northern Kentucky University's independent student newspaper, Webb landed a job at the Kentucky Post, based in Cincinnati.

"Gary was a bulldog,” said former co-worker David Wecker. “He was smart and he knew where to go to find the answers. He was one of the greatest I have ever worked with."

After his time at the Kentucky Post, Webb worked as a statehouse correspondent for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. In 1988, Webb left Ohio to take a job at the San Jose Mercury News.

While working in San Jose, Webb reported the Reagan administration shielded inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to raise money for the Contras. The Contras were rebel groups active from 1979 through the early 1990s in opposition to the Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government in Nicaragua.

Webb's reporting generated fierce controversy, and the San Jose Mercury News backed away from his story. It effectively ended his career as a mainstream-media journalist.

VIDEO: A report on Webb's life from WCPO in Cincinnati.

In 2004, he was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the head. The coroner's office that investigated his death ruled it a suicide.

In 2013, Nick Schou – a journalist writing for LA Weekly who wrote the book “Kill the Messenger” – said Webb's reporting was eventually proven to be true.

Those who knew Webb said he fit the mold of an investigative reporter and didn’t stop until he got answers.

"He was the guy that would take deep dives on stories," Wecker said. “He was feisty.”

Directed by Michael Cuesta, the movie stars Renner as Webb. It's based on the biography "Kill The Messenger" by Shou and Webb's own book, "Dark Alliance."