The media scandal surrounding Operation Tailwind
By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 21, 2017
The story of Green Beret Gary Michael Rose’s heroism is an epic of classified warfare and a stinging media scandal that will soon end with a Medal of Honor.
In 1970, Rose was the lone medic for a company of Special Forces soldiers and indigenous Vietnamese fighters during a risky, four-day assault deep into Laos. The badly injured Rose helped bring all the soldiers back alive and received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, during a ceremony at the time in Vietnam.
But in 1998, Rose and the other men were wrongly accused of taking part in war crimes when the mission, called Operation Tailwind, was declassified and unearthed for the first time by CNN and its partner Time magazine.
CNN aired a program in June 1998 called “NewsStand’ with an investigative expose titled “Valley of Death” hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peter Arnett. The show made a series of hard-hitting allegations about the mission in Laos.
CNN claimed Special Forces soldiers were sent in to kill American military defectors, and during the mission they destroyed a village, killed women and children, and dropped deadly sarin gas, a chemical weapon banned under international law, according to a detailed examination of the reporting by the Defense Department.
The same claims were published by CNN’s partner Time magazine in a story written by Arnett and April Oliver, a CNN producer.
The defense secretary at the time, William Cohen, ordered the leaders of the Army, Air Force and Navy as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct their own full-scale investigation, which included interviewing witnesses and digging into military records and historical archives.
The Pentagon investigation shot down the claims in “Valley of Death.” CNN and Time conducted an internal review and after the findings were reported, they retracted the story.
The incident became one of the biggest media scandals of the late 1990s and triggered a flurry of lawsuits against CNN.
Arnett, famed for his dispatches from the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, was reprimanded and later pushed out of CNN. Oliver was fired from the network after the story was retracted.
In the wake of the scandal, Rose’s unit, the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, received a presidential citation in 2001 for heroism in Vietnam from 1964-1972, which is equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross for all Green Berets who served during its existence.
Compiled from a Stars and Stripes story in July 2016 by Travis Tritten