Producer: CBS May Have 'Pushed Too Hard' in Westmoreland Broadcast
May. 03, 1985
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ CBS may have ''pushed too hard'' in its 1982 documentary that accused Gen. William C. Westmoreland of suppressing accurate estimates of enemy troop strength in Vietnam, the producer of the broadcast said Friday.
While the documentary was factually accurate, if he had it to do over again he would try to include more of the context in which Westmoreland was operating while U.S commander in Vietnam, CBS producer George Crile told a regional conference of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
''It's clear the president (Lyndon B. Johnson) wanted good news and was going to beat up anybody who didn't provide it,'' Crile told the broadcast reporters and news executives.
''General Westmoreland was a patriot. He was trying to win the war. He was presumably acting in good faith,'' Crile said. ''In a sense, I think we pushed too hard.''
Crile produced the 1982 CBS documentary, ''The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,'' which was narrated by correspondent Mike Wallace.
The broadcast said that Westmoreland, commander of American troops in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, insisted that intelligence reports show no more than 300,000 communist troops in the field, despite evidence pointing to a figure in excess of 500,000. Westmoreland feared the higher figures would undermine political support for the war, the broadcast said.
The case never went to the jury. The $120 million suit was dropped by Westmoreland on Feb. 18 following an 18-week libel trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. CBS, in its only apparent concession, agreed not to try to force Westmoreland to pay its court costs and legal fees after the case was formally dismissed.
The CBS documentary has since been used by the Central Intelligence Agency as a training film for intelligence officers, to demonstrate how the intelligence process can be subverted by political considerations, Crile said.
The outcome of the trial produced no feeling of elation, Crile said, in part because of ''the human factor of sitting near General Westmoreland in the courtroom'' and sharing the experience of being covered by the press.
''It's different to be covered and I've been through that,'' Crile said. ''It was a sobering experience and a humbling experience as well, which ultimately, I think, will make me a better reporter.''