CNN Retracts Nerve-Gas Story7/05/1998 8:00 PM Eastern
Marking an embarrassing start for its new"CNN
NewsStand" block, Cable News Network last week retracted a story that charged that
the U.S. military used deadly nerve gas in a mission to kill American defectors in Laos
during the Vietnam War.
The controversial story aired June 7 on the debut show of CNN
NewsStand: CNN and Time, a collaboration between the network and its corporate
sibling, Time magazine.
In a prepared statement, CNN News Group chairman and CEO
Tom Johnson fully shouldered the blame and responsibility for the faulty report, saying
that an independent probe concluded that the nerve-gas story "cannot be
CNN retained First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to
investigate its own reporting on "Operation Tailwind" and the story's
charges regarding the lethal nerve gas sarin.
Johnson, who apologized both to CNN's viewers and to
his colleagues at Time, said the investigation found that there was insufficient
evidence to support the sarin allegations.
"CNN alone bears responsibility for both the
television reports and for the printed article in the June 15 issue of Time
magazine," Johnson said. "We acknowledge serious faults in the use of sources
who provided NewsStand with the original reports, and we therefore retract the
He added, "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,"
Johnson said. "We are taking vigorous steps to strengthen our internal procedures to
assure that mistakes of this type do not occur in the future."
Like CNN, Time also retracted the story -- and it
will do so in print in this week's issue -- and apologized for running it.
In his own statement and retraction, Time magazine
editor Walter Issacson said, "We respect the serious and forthright way that CNN has
re-examined this story, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with them."
As soon as the story aired, its veracity came under attack
by veterans and former government officials. Retired Major Gen. Perry Smith, who had been
a military analyst for CNN, quit in protest over the story. Then Time itself said
it would look into the questions raised about the story.