Accuracy in Media

We have been saying since CNN first aired a program on June 7, in which it charged that in 1970 American forces used lethal poison gas in Laos, that the charge was false and that CNN should retract, apologize and fire those responsible for airing it. It took CNN almost a month to get around to retracting and apologizing. They finally did so on July 2, after Floyd Abrams, the big name attorney they hired to conduct an investigation, submitted his report. He told CNN that there was no evidence to support the charges, that they should retract and apologize, but he stopped short of recommending that anyone be fired.

When Dateline NBC was caught rigging tests to show that certain GM pickup trucks would burst into flame in collisions, NBC fired the president of NBC News, Michael Gartner, and several senior people working for Dateline. CNN has done just the opposite. It fired the two producers, April Oliver and Jack Smith, who did the research and most of the interviews on the phony story, and it accepted the resignation of Pam Hill, the executive producer.

But Peter Arnett, the on-camera correspondent who also did two of the most important badly flawed interviews that were used on the air, was let off with a reprimand. Rick Kaplan, the president of CNN, deserves much of the blame, but he keeps his job. Kaplan was the driving force behind the new CNN TV magazine program, “NewsStand, CNN and Time,” which featured the poison gas story on its premiere broadcast. He wanted something that would attract attention, and he got it. He went over the script in advance, but he didn’t show it to CNN’s military consultant, Gen. Perry Smith.

After the program aired, Gen. Smith made a few phone calls and obtained records that proved that the gas used on the Tailwind Operation in Laos was tear gas, not the deadly nerve gas claimed by CNN. But even then, his demands that CNN air a retraction were ignored by Kaplan and by his boss, Chairman Tom Johnson. Perry Smith resigned , saying he couldn’t work with such unethical people.

Rick Kaplan seems to have forgotten about Perry Smith’s resignation and the reasons for it. On July 4, he said, (quote) “The test of any organization is in how you react when a mistake is made….As soon as the report aired and we started hearing all the criticism and we started getting…a lot more information that we didn’t have before the report aired, we started looking at the piece very vigorously.”

That’s false. They totally ignored General Smith’s information. A week later, they aired a second program defending the first program. Kaplan is also dissembling about the roles that he and Peter Arnett played in this matter. Even George Stephanopoulos commented, “There was essentially a slap on the wrist for all the big bosses, and everybody else gets fired. That sends the wrong signal.” He’s right. Why not tell CNN what you think? Call 404-827-1700. That’s 404-827-1700.




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