CNN and Time launched a new TV magazine titled NewsStand on June 7 with a story about a top secret Special Forces raid in Laos in 1970 code-named Operation Tailwind. They came up with one of the worst journalistic atrocities we have seen in the past 30 years. The program made three accusations: (1) that the purpose of the mission was to find and kill American defectors working with the enemy; (2) that sarin, a deadly nerve gas, was used on the (quote) “village” where the defectors were believed to be; and (3) that the nerve gas was used again to kill North Vietnamese troops who tried to block the escape of the American commandos and the 140 Montagnard tribesmen who were helping them.
All three charges are false. Time and CNN perpetrated a fraud on their readers and viewers. Accuracy in Media has sent them a stiff letter exposing the fraud and demanding that they apologize and retract their false charges. We also recommended that those responsible for this outrage be fired. General Perry Smith, who has been CNN?s military consultant since the Gulf War, tried for a week to persuade the top executives of CNN to air a retraction. When they refused, he resigned in protest. This is a story that should become the textbook example of shoddy and manipulative journalism.
The veterans of Operation Tailwind were persuaded to cooperate with the producers of the program by being told that it would tell the story of the courage and heroism they displayed. They and thousands of other Special Forces veterans were outraged to find that the program as aired denigrated their mission and made it appear that the operation violated President Nixon?s commitment that the United States would not be the first country to use poison gas in combat.
Television networks, newspapers and news magazines rarely criticize the stories aired and published by their competitors, but in this case the reporting by CNN and Time was so bad that Time?s leading rival, Newsweek, published an article strongly criticizing CNN for what it aired and Time for publishing an article written by Peter Arnett, the correspondent who narrated the program, and April Oliver, the producer.
Newsweek said that its own investigation (quote) “raises serious doubts about the most sensational allegations.” It quoted the Army captain who led the raid, Eugene McCarley, as saying that “It?s all lies.” McCarley told Accuracy in Media that his mission was to blow up a bridge on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the route used by North Vietnam to move men, equipment and supplies into South Vietnam via Laos. The plan was to disrupt traffic on the trail and divert some of the enemy troops nearby who were attacking Hmong tribesmen allied with the U.S.
It was a dangerous mission. All 16 of the Americans were wounded, but they all came out alive. Three of their 140 Montagnard troops were killed and 33 were wounded. I have interviewed seven of the 16 Americans about the charges made by CNN and Time. In our next commentary we will tell you what they told us.