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MediaWatch: June 29, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 10

"Damaged by CNN", Says One of Network's Own'

CNN "damaged" the U.S. and helped Saddam Hussein with a "Hitlerian" program alleging the U.S. used deadly nerve gas against defecting soldiers in 1970 Laos. So contended CNN's very own military affairs consultant, Perry Smith, after viewing the June 7 premiere of NewsStand: CNN & Time.

Two weeks after the original report narrated by Peter Arnett, co-host Jeff Greenfield acknowledged the controversy and how "CNN's military consultant, retired General Perry Smith, resigned in protest over that story. Other voices have been heard calling that story into doubt. We take these voices seriously." But CNN hardly conveyed the depth of Smith's anger or their efforts to cover it up.

Howard Kurtz reported in the June 17 Washington Post that "Smith quit after failing to convince Tom Johnson, Chairman of the CNN News Group, that the network needed to retract the story" which was also published in Time magazine. "'I can't work for an organization that would do something like this and not fess up to it,' Smith said yesterday."

Kurtz explained how Smith found the story lacking: "Smith flew 130 combat sorties over Laos from 1968 to 1969 and said he never heard of lethal gas being used. He said he has consulted such former high-ranking military officials as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, who assured him that no nerve gas was used by the United States during the war. Smith quoted Schwarzkopf as calling the allegation 'ridiculous.' Smith also tracked down two pilots who delivered gas to Laos that day from an air base in Thailand. Both said they had carried non-lethal tear gas, not poisonous nerve gas."

Kurtz relayed this condemnation from the man who spent years on the inside: "'CNN has damaged the United States of America quite seriously,' Smith said. Referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he said: 'Saddam can now accuse America of hypocrisy and use CNN as a source.'" Smith told Washington Times reporter Jennifer Harper the next day: "CNN vowed they would never sink to tabloid journalism, that they would be honest and straight-forward. Then they air this story, which is almost Hitlerian in concept."

But if CNN, which demands openness from everyone else, had its way, Smith would never have spoken. WorldNetDaily Editor Joe Farah learned that CNN threatened the retired Air Force Major General with a lawsuit if he kept talking: "Smith was told by CNN lawyers, in no uncertain terms, to shut up."