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CNN retracts Tailwind coverage

Ken Bacon
Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon reacts to CNN's retraction  
July 2, 1998
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EDT (2001 GMT)

Also in this story:

(CNN) -- Cable News Network on Thursday retracted its story that the U.S. military used nerve gas in a mission to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War.

The story was broadcast June 7 on the CNN program NewsStand. CNN Interactive also carried the report.

The Pentagon said it was pleased by the 54-page CNN retraction.

In a statement, CNN News Group Chairman, President and CEO Tom Johnson said an independent investigation had concluded that the report "cannot be supported." He said there is insufficient evidence that sarin or any other deadly gas was used. Nor, said Johnson, can CNN confirm that American defectors were targeted or at the camp as the report stated.

Time magazine Managing Editor Walter Isaacson's statement on CNN's Tailwind coverage

Attorneys' report on CNN Broadcast

CNN's Tailwind latest in series of media embarrassments
CNN retracts Tailwind story
Netshow 28K 56K

"Obviously we are gratified that CNN retracted a report that we believe was not accurate," Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters.

Bacon said the Pentagon's own preliminary findings show that the two major premises of the CNN report -- that sarin nerve gas was used in Laos in 1970 and that Operation Tailwind was designed to track down and kill defectors -- are wrong. ( 374 K/34 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

He said the military's own review would be complete "by the end of next week or early the week after."

Bacon also said he was "glad CNN apologized" to the "valiant" participants in Operation Tailwind who "felt betrayed and hurt by the report," he said. ( 281 K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"I hope that CNN is ... energetic in making this retraction and clarification so that people do understand what the true facts of this mission were," Bacon said.

After the CNN report aired, Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered an investigation into the nerve gas allegations but said there is no evidence the gas was ever used in Vietnam.

That investigation is still under way, Bacon said Thursday. "To the best of my knowledge, the closest sarin got to Vietnam was Okinawa (Japan)."

Text of CNN's statement

In his statement, Johnson apologized to CNN viewers and CNN's colleagues at Time magazine.

Here is the text of his statement which CNN is broadcasting:

"Nothing is more important to a news organization than its reputation for accuracy, fairness and responsibility.

"Building and maintaining high standards of journalistic excellence have been critical to the success of CNN since its launch 18 years ago.

"As chairman of the CNN News Group, I am responsible for assuring our staff and viewers that we get the story right.

"CNN NewsStand's recent coverage of Operation Tailwind, a covert action conducted by U.S. servicemen in Laos more than 28 years ago, reported that a deadly nerve gas was used and that American defectors were a primary target of the military action.

"The original report came to us from personnel involved in the Tailwind Operation and was supported by individuals who were in a position to know about the operation.

"Since the first NewsStand Tailwind broadcast, hundreds of veterans and other former government officials have denied the reports.

"As a result, CNN commissioned an independent investigation of NewsStand's reporting on Operation Tailwind, led by a highly respected outside media attorney, Floyd Abrams.

"The report concludes that NewsStand's broadcast on Operation Tailwind cannot be supported.

"There is insufficient evidence that sarin or any other deadly gas was used.

"Furthermore, CNN can not confirm that American defectors were targeted or at the camp as NewsStand reported.

"CNN alone bears responsibility for both the television reports and for the printed article in the June 15 issue of Time magazine.

"We acknowledge serious faults in the use of sources who provided NewsStand with the original reports and therefore retract the Tailwind story.

"We apologize to our viewers and to our colleagues at Time for this mistake.

"CNN owes a special apology to the personnel involved in Operation Tailwind, both the soldiers on the ground and the U.S. Air Force pilots and U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilots who were involved in this action.

"CNN's system of journalistic checks and balances, which has served CNN exceptionally well in the past, failed in this case.

"The fault lies with the editors, producers and reporters and executives responsible for the report, the program and its contents.

"We are taking vigorous steps to strengthen our internal procedures to assure that mistakes of this type do not occur in the future."

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