- NEW YORK (Variety/Reuters) - Two former CNN producers fired after Cable
News Network retracted its story about Operation Tailwind accused CNN's
top brass of caving into political pressure to kill further investigation
into the story. April Oliver and Jack Smith, who produced the ``Valley
of Death'' report, also charged that the investigation that led to their
dismissals was rigged to protect CNN's top executives. Oliver and Smith
were axed this month after First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams submitted
a report of his inquiry into the CNN story. Abrams'investigation concluded
that nothing in the story was untrue but there was insufficient evidence
to go with the news segment, which accused the U.S. military of dropping
deadly sarin nerve gas on American defectors in Laos in 1970. On Wednesday,
Oliver and Smith issued a 77-page rebuttal to Abrams' investigation that
said, among other things, the entire report was tainted because David Kohler,
senior VP and general counsel of CNN, was the co-author of the report,
which created a conflict-of-interest situation.
- CNN spokesman Steve Haworth denied that
Kohler's participation in the Abrams report in any way biased it to protect
CNN's top executives. ``One of the signatures on the report was Floyd Abrams'
and his integrity speaks for itself,'' said Haworth. Oliver accused CNN
Chairman Tom Johnson and CNN's U.S. president, Rick Kaplan, of bowing to
political pressure from people such as former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger and Retired Gen. Colin Powell when they decided to retract the
- ``I've never seen the extent of panic
and fear in executive faces (as that) of Johnson and Kaplan over a story,''
Smith said. ``At CBS (where Smith worked at one point), they stood up to
the Pentagon. Under Tom Johnson, you cooperate with them.'' Oliver added
that she believes CNN's brass decided to retract the story because it would
help CNN reporters' ability to report news on the military going forward.
``CNN's bread and butter is being there first,'' said Oliver. ``When they
looked at the corporate bottom line, it would be better to keep their sources
in Bosnia and around the world rather than stick with this 28-year-old
story.'' Haworth disputed that CNN gave in to anyone in deciding to retract
- ``CNN management did not cave to any
outside pressure,'' said Haworth. ``The only pressure we felt was generated
by the clarity of Abrams' report that said the story did not have sufficient
support to go on the air.'' Oliver and Smith said they will continue to
report the Tailwind story on their own as freelancers. They accused CNN
management of forbidding staffers from continuing the investigation. Oliver
said she left three tapes of a new interview of another confidential source
sitting in a CNN office that further backed up the accusation that nerve
gas was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. ``We've been
told by our colleagues at CNN that they've been threatened with their jobs
if they do a scintilla of work with us,'' said Oliver.
- Haworth countered, ``There is no prohibition
on the possibility that there will be new information that will air on
the story.'' On Tuesday, the Pentagon said its own investigation into CNN's
initial Tailwind charges found nothing to support accusations that U.S.
forces used nerve gas in Laos. The Tailwind story was the premiere episode
of a magazine series called ``CNN NewsStand,'' a collaboration between
CNN and sister journalistic enterprise Time magazine.