Here, Mr. Turner: You appear to have lost this.
Dear Mr. Ted Turner:
Two of the very best producers you have, April Oliver and Jack Smith, came to CNN management with the story of a lifetime – the first confirmed use of nerve gas by the U.S. in a black operation run by the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) called Tailwind. CNN attorney David Kohler vetted the story before it went on the air.
April Oliver warned Tom Johnson, Richard Kaplan, and others that this story would likely be vehemently denied, and to expect opposition from people such as Henry Kissinger, a man directly implicated in the chain of authorization, as well as from the CIA and the Pentagon.
After the program aired on June 6, 1998, what happened?
CNN management hired a bunch of CIA men, one a former chief of clandestine operations, to review a story about one of the CIA's own operations, one that potentially involved war crimes. Does it make sense to ask such men to investigate a story that reveals the secrets of an employer whose secrets they have sworn to protect?
When these men, in conjunction with attorney Kohler and the corporate attorney Floyd Abrams served up a report that used evidence in a manner so selectively as to border on the dishonest, this report was used as an excuse to fire the producers and retract the story. Was that fair?
You claimed, after the retraction, that "Nothing has upset me as much in my whole life," adding that it was worse than the death of your father.
We think that when a network has a solid story, is aware of potential ramifications, airs the story, and then waffles at the first sign of disgruntlement from high government officials, that is a terrible, horrible thing. In fact, it endangers our democracy.
What is the point of watching news if not to learn important information that helps us make decisions in voting booths? The people deserve to know what the CIA and the Pentagon did during the Vietnam War. The people deserve to know if war crimes have been committed. And CNN has a duty to provide the people that information. By retracting such a well-documented story, you have failed the people utterly in your endeavor to provide important news to the citizens of our country.
The Abrams report never claimed the story wasn't true. And quite to the contrary, the report pointed out many cases in which the producers had a plethora of evidence that enabled CNN management to have a comfort level airing the broadcast. The report only claims that there wasn't evidence that proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the US had used nerve gas to extract defectors during the Tailwind operation. But you have allowed news outlets to misrepresent their findings enough to assert the story was "false." Why?
The only "proof" it appears Abrams would consider would be a full admission from the Pentagon and the CIA. Lacking that, Abrams and his CIA investigators can claim forever that there is no proof. If such a standard is to be accepted, we might as well rename our country after Orwell's Oceania and adopt "newspeak." Evidence is useless against such a standard.
If it follows that the truth will set you free, what happens when lies are allowed to go unchallenged?
There is a battle going on for the heart and soul of this country. One side wants to tell the truth about covert operations, and is willing to take their battles to the halls of Congress if necessary. The other side just wants to be accepted by the powers that be, to be invited to parties, not to rock the boat. When the history of this episode is complete, on which side of the battlefield do you want to be found, Mr. Turner?
You cannot retract the retraction. But you can do something. Start by releasing the transcript of the "Valley of Death" broadcast which has been pulled not only from the CNN Web site, but from the vendors who normally carry CNN transcripts. Then follow the story. If the story was considered "insupportable," allow the producers to present additional support. Give air time to new interviews, such as the one already in the can of a veteran who came forward after the broadcast to tell of a similar event in Cambodia.
If you can't help us learn important truths about our past, what is the point of continuing in your venture?
Take a stand, Mr. Turner. Do it before any more time is lost. You owe it to your viewers and to your country.