- One of the producers fired in the wake
of the CNN's retraction of its Operation Tailwind story detailing the use
of nerve gas against defectors in Vietnam told her side of the story in
the Washington Post Sunday.
- April Oliver defended the story that
she and coproducer Jack Smith produced for "NewsStand: CNN & Time"
and shed light on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that began almost immediately
after the show aired last month.
- The problem, Oliver argues, was not her
reporting, but the military's response to the explosive allegations the
show raised. As CNN America President Rick Kaplan told a team of producers,
"this is not a journalism problem, this is a PR problem."
- She accuses lawyers Floyd Abrams and
David Kohler of delivering a report on the show "to support a corporate
whitewash, driven by executive fear, to avoid further controversy in the
press, with the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill." CNN "sacrificed"
the story, she says, to protect the network's relationship with the Pentagon.
- Oliver said she predicted that the attack
against the broadcast would be "swift and brutal," and her fears
were confirmed when both the Special Forces Association and luminaries
as Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Richard Helms both "savaged"
the report in public and privately pressured CNN executives. Both she and
Smith were muzzled by network management and neither were allowed to comment
on the Abrams/Kohler report before CNN released it and retracted the story.
- On specific criticisms in the Abrams/Kohler
report, Oliver says:
- The report charges that interviews with
former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Thomas Moorer did not
confirm the broadcast. But Oliver says the report relied on an introductory
interview with Admiral Moorer when he had not decided how much to cooperate
with CNN; subsequent interviews confirm "that the target of Tailwind
was a group of defectors and that sarin nerve gas was widely available
for search and rescue missions in Laos. Furthermore, Admiral Moorer
signed off on both the CNN script and Time article prior to the broadcast,
and two other confidential sources with knowledge of the mission read the
script and confirmed its accuracy.
- Oliver said Moorer had distanced himself
from the story since the broadcast because he was embarrassed when friends
and colleagues thought he had been involved in or had authorized the mission.
- On charges that the report was skewed,
Oliver said that many sources who would have expressed critical views --
including former national security adviser Henry Kissinger, former CIA
director Richard Helms, former SOG commander John Sadler -- refused to
be interviewed. Statements of Tailwind leader Captain Eugene McCarley that
he "never, ever considered the use of lethal gas, not on any of my
operations" and quotes from a pilot who said he was told in a briefing
that it was just tear gas were cut from the final piece because of time
constraints by CNN management in Atlanta.
- Oliver also denounced the "repressed
memory" story that the report circulated about former lieutenant Robert
Van Buskirk as an attempt to discredit the story. Furthermore, Van Buskirk's
book "Tailwind," which Abrams and Kohler said was "about"
the mission, was actually "a profile of Van Buskirk's life journey
toward God" that includes only one short chapter on Operation Tailwind.