In our last commentary we reported that CNN’s chairman and CEO, Tom Johnson, had promised to see that an honest, tough, and thorough investigation was made of the CNN-Time magazine charges that the U.S. employed lethal nerve gas to kill American defectors in Laos in 1970. It took CNN’s former military consultant, Gen. Perry Smith, three days to find the evidence that proved that was false. It shouldn’t take Tom Johnson that long to reach the same conclusion. Gen. Smith, the Special Forces Association and Accuracy in Media have given him all the evidence he needs.
Perhaps by the time this commentary airs, Johnson and Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time magazine, will have reported their findings and taken whatever action they feel appropriate. We have said that CNN should follow the example of Dateline NBC when it was caught falsifying crash tests on GM pickup trucks. NBC fired the president of NBC news and several Dateline senior staffers. We said CNN should fire its president, Richard Kaplan, its star correspondent Peter Arnett, and others responsible for the false charges.
We singled out Kaplan and Arnett because both of them have backgrounds that suggest to us that their lack of respect for ethical standards helps explain why CNN produced and aired its false charges defaming the brave men who planned and carried out Operation Tailwind. They were American heroes portrayed as villains. Peter Arnett is a New Zealand-born journalist who covered Vietnam for the Associated Press for eight years. He may have done more than any other reporter to undermine support for the Vietnam War in America and other countries.
In 1966, he won a Pulitzer Prize for “general excellence.” One of his stories was about our use of non-lethal tear gas in Vietnam, associating it with poison gases. This set off an international furor that helped Arnett win his Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps he thought that a sensational story charging that Operation Tailwind used poison gas to kill American defectors in Laos would thrust him back into the limelight again. He must miss the attention he got during the Gulf War when he remained in Iraq while the war was raging, putting Saddam Hussein’s propaganda on CNN. The fact that Saddam had used poison gas against both Iran and his own people didn’t seem to bother Baghdad Pete.
Richard Kaplan demonstrated his disdain for journalistic ethics in 1992 during the New Hampshire primary campaign. He was working for ABC News, but that didn’t stop him from helping candidate Bill Clinton surmount some serious difficulties. One was the discovery of the letter Clinton wrote in 1969 to Col. Eugene Holmes, who had helped him get an ROTC deferment from the draft.
In the letter, Clinton confessed to having tricked Col. Holmes, getting him to violate federal law to get him the ROTC deferment. He said he loathed the military. This should have knocked candidate Clinton out of contention, but ABC News generously sat on the letter for three days, giving Clinton time to prepare some damage-control spin. Kaplan is believed to have influenced both ABC’s incredible delay and Clinton’s response.