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CNN Hires Lawyer Floyd Abrams

June 25, 1998

ATLANTA (AP) _ Stung by controversy over a report alleging that U.S. forces used nerve gas to hunt down Vietnam War defectors, CNN has hired attorney Floyd Abrams to independently investigate the story’s accuracy.

Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer who has represented major news organizations, will look at the network’s research and process in compiling the report. He will present his findings to CNN executives.

``If we were wrong, we’ll tell you that. If we were right, we’ll tell you that,″ CNN anchorman Jeff Greenfield said Wednesday.

The report, which was compiled by CNN journalists, aired two weeks ago and Time magazine published an article based on the report a day later. Both organizations are owned by Time Warner.

The news organizations said Monday that they would investigate the accuracy of the report, which accused the military of using the nerve gas sarin in Laos during 1970′s Operation Tailwind, in which two U.S. defectors supposedly were killed, and in other missions. Several Special Forces soldiers were quoted as saying they were involved.

The report also quoted retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff from 1970 to 1974, as confirming the use of sarin. But he later said he had simply heard unconfirmed stories about it and had no independent knowledge.

The network’s top military analyst, retired Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, quit in protest last week over the report after failing to persuade the network to retract the story.

``What we have here is not sloppy journalism but irresponsible, dishonest journalism,″ Smith said in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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

Walter Isaacson, Time’s managing editor, said the magazine believed the initial CNN report and article ``were based on substantial evidence.″

``But we feel that the doubts raised deserve full exploration. So we plan to keep reporting this story,″ Isaacson said.

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