David H. Hackworth
16 June 1998
CNN AND TIME NEED TO RETAKE JOURNALISM 101
Last week, Time Warner's CNN and Time magazine jointly reported that during the Vietnam War U.S. Special Forces commandos conducted a raid in Laos to take out American defectors. They said USAF aircraft dropped nerve gas before the raid and then again when the helicopters lifted out the raiders.
Robert Van Buskirk, the star witness on the raid, spoke on the show "NewsStand: CNN & Time." He said both that nerve gas was used and that the purpose of the mission was to kill American defectors.
"NewsStand" failed to mention Van Buskirk's credibility problems: that he was charged with arms trafficking in 1974 and that within the Special Forces community he had a reputation for "deceit and unreliability."
Damning also is that Van Buskirk, in his 1983 book "Tailwind," neglects to mention killing American deserters or using nerve gas. But 15 years later, as CNN cameras roll, he suddenly has a major revelation.
"NewsStand" quotes retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, who was chairman of the joint chiefs in 1970, as confirming the use of deadly nerve gas. Moorer, now 89, says this isn't so.
Capt. Tom Stump, the lead pilot for the fighter planes, says nerve gas was not used. The Special Forces officer who planned the raid says that wasn't the mission and that no nerve gas was used. USAF chemical munitions experts who were in Thailand and Vietnam at this time agree. They say CNN and Time wouldn't know nerve gas from manure and that both are full of the latter.
Helicopter blades would have sucked the gas into the choppers. But neither the helicopter crews nor the Special Forces raiders wore gas masks. All the Special Forces raiders had been wounded -- and with that lethal stuff, one drop in an open wound or one whiff and you're gone.
CNN's own military consultant, USAF retired Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, told CNN to pull the story before it ran. Smith has since quit CNN in protest.
Smith wrote, "I had tried very hard _ to convince (CNN) to do a major retraction but to no avail. Lots of people at CNN were solidly with me on this, but not the top bosses and the team that put that terrible special together."
In 1970, at the time of the raid, my unit, 44th Special Zone, controlled most of the secret cross-border raids into Cambodia. Special Forces warriors under the Zone's control were never given a mission to snuff American defectors. The reverse was true: Recovery of American personnel was top priority.
My memory of Operation Tailwind tracks with the SF planner. And I know from more than four years in Vietnam that I never once even heard a rumor that nerve gas was used.
The "NewsStand" story would flunk Journalism 101 at Bonehead College. It's full of holes. Not only did it show the wrong gas mask on the tube, it failed to examine the North Vietnamese official history of the 968th Infantry Division, which controlled that region of Laos. This unit's after-action report doesn't contain even a hint that nerve gas was used against its troops.
Further, if nerve gas had been used, the media savvy Reds would have made sure that every headline in the world screamed "Americans Use Nerve Gas in Laos." Instead, Hanoi just announced that Van Buskirk's claim was news to them.
Special Forces Vietnam veteran Tom Marzulla has conducted an exhaustive study of Van Buskirk's allegations. He claims that Vietnam-era Special Forces soldiers want Van Buskirk tried for "the murder of the two unarmed Americans" he says he killed during the raid.
"Only after an investigation will the entire truth come out," says Marzulla.
Beginning with traitors such as Ted Turner's wife, Jane Fonda -- known as "Hanoi Jane" for aiding and abetting the enemy during the war -- Hollywood has spent 30 years trashing Vietnam vets, doing its best to paint them as savages.
Sure it was a bad war. Right, we shouldn't have been there. But blame the politicians and other jerks who sent our kids there instead of demeaning the brave men who fought in that apocalypse.
It was one of the toughest wars we've ever fought. Tougher still was how our troops were treated when they came home. Those who stood tall there have been dishonored long enough. Time Warner must make its wrong-minded media twins apologize, and heads should roll over this latest bit of tired anti-Vietnam War propaganda.