Fired CNN Producer
Defends Sarin Gas Story -
Cover-Up Charged

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.

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