Accuracy in Media

CNN hasn’t heard the last of the controversy over its phony “Operation Tailwind” story. That’s the story that falsely claimed that U.S. troops during the Vietnam War had used nerve gas to kill Americans and had killed women and children. The story was later retracted. Now, CNN’s most famous reporter, “Baghdad Pete” Arnett, who seems to have gone into hiding, is among those who have been sued for defamation by retired Major General John Singlaub.

Singlaub’s lawyer, Keith Mitnik, said, “In a despicable display of mean-spirited tabloid journalism, CNN and Time magazine branded this man of honor a ruthless war criminal, a killer of American soldiers and a commander of troops who killed innocent women and children. The die cast by these malicious lies cannot be washed away by watered-down retractions. CNN and Time magazine have taken steps to repair their tattered reputations. Now General Singlaub will take the necessary steps to repair his reputation.”

A week after the filing of the Singlaub suit, eleven more Vietnam veterans sued CNN and Time Magazine. One, Art Bishop, a former Air Force pilot, said the evidence shows that tear gas- not nerve gas- was used on the Tailwind mission. He said he told producer April Oliver about this but she didn’t want to hear it. “What I got was nerve gas questions, and I gave her tear gas answers,” he said. April Oliver has also been sued by Singlaub. She is now a former CNN producer, having been fired. Incredibly, however, she is still peddling the allegations. The most recent issue of a newsletter distributed by “Project Censored,” an organization associated with Sonoma State University, quotes her as saying that CNN retracted the story because it was putting “profits before news.” That is, Oliver claims that CNN was caving in to corporate and military interests.

According to this convoluted theory, CNN retracted the story because the network was somehow threatened with being cut-off from future military stories. Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored, reports that another fired CNN producer, Jack Smith “feels” that CNN capitulated to this alleged threat.

If Smith and Oliver really believe this, they should produce the evidence for their charge, rather than relying on their feelings. Instead, they are now complaining that some of their colleagues failed to stick with them. The Project Censored newsletter reported, “So far, no mainstream journalists have stepped forward to follow up on her story…” But that’s because the story was exposed by the Pentagon and CNN itself as unsubstantiated.

The Project Censored newsletter insists that the handling of the Tailwind story demonstrates that if you’re a journalist who attacks the sacred cows of powerful corporate or government institutions, then your career will be on the line. This is ridiculous. To cite one example: ABC News and the New York Times have legitimately challenged Pentagon claims that the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, which was demolished with U.S. cruise missiles, was producing material for chemical weapons. The Pentagon is a fair target, but you should make absolutely sure you have your facts right. April Oliver and Jack Smith ignored the facts.

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