CNN’s Bernard Shaw has passed away after a long career of looking at a screen and reading what the teleprompter said. And then giving lectures about journalism.
In theory, we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. I support that notion in theory, but in practice that allows the cultural propaganda machine to sanctify bad actors and then turn them into models of virtue.
Shaw was no model of journalism. And what he should be remembered for is the nerve gas hoax.
Conservative memories tend to fake pretty quickly. Especially these days. But the nerve gas hoax was one of the pre-Iraq War stunts that the media pulled in order to undermine the war. The Laos nerve gas hoax combined old elements of anti-Vietnam War lefty counterjournalism hitting the sweet spot for boomer lefties (much as Dan Rather’s Wordgate did) and attacks on the Iraq War. But what set the nerve gas hoax apart was the sheer insanity of what it was claiming. And the lack of consequences.
It was less than a week before “NewsStand’s June 7 debut, and he was focused on getting it off the ground. Back in his office, Kaplan picked up the script. “I read it, and I go, it’s like, `Hell-o! Jesus!’ he recalls. In six days, CNN would make a stunning revelation: After an eight-month investigation, it was reporting “that the U.S. military used lethal nerve gas during the Vietnam War.
Only a few months earlier, the United States had nearly gone to war with Iraq over Saddam Hussein’s stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons. Kaplan continued reading: “Peter Arnett has the story of Operation Tailwind, a raid into Laos, which, according to military officials with knowledge of the mission, held two top secrets: dropping nerve gas on a mission to kill American defectors.
That’s right. Using nerve gas to kill American defectors. A story so insane that only the nuttiest anti-American leftists or bothsides conspirazoids could believe it.
More shocking still, as Shaw elaborated, the occasion for this violation of declared U.S. policy and international law was a 1970 mission to kill American soldiers who had defected to the enemy. That mission, chimed in the show’s narrator, the veteran CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, was code-named “Tailwind,” and it was carried out by a secret, elite unit of the Special Forces with the deliberately innocuous name of “Studies and Observations Group” or “SOG.” Notwithstanding American professions of respect for the neutrality of Laos, SOG units routinely crossed into that country, where, in Arnett’s words, “the hunting and killing of American defectors was a high priority.” Tailwind, summarized Greenfield, was “a top-secret effort . . . to find and kill those defectors by virtually any means necessary.”
After destroying the village, and killing most or all of its inhabitants, the team prepared to be lifted out. But then it came under attack from enemy forces. In order to cover the escape, two U.S. bombers dropped additional loads of nerve gas onto the battlefield. “Running . . . shooting . . . throwing up . . . unable to breath,” in Van Buskirk’s words, the Americans clambered over enemy bodies into their choppers and made their getaway.
Battlefield reality as brought to you by CNN lefties who watched too many Chuck Norris movies.
That viewers were meant to be reminded by this of the notorious incident at My Lai, where Vietnamese civilians were killed by American troops under the direction of Lieutenant William Calley, was underscored by Bernard Shaw’s breaking into a commercial pause in the middle of the Tailwind report to announce a Time “Milestone”—the death of Colonel Oran K. Henderson, “the highest ranking officer ever tried for the infamous My Lai massacre.” (Henderson had not actually been present at My Lai, but was tried—and acquitted—for failing to investigate the killings.)
The whole thing was a bunch of lies. As with Dan Rather’s Wordgate, some producers paid the price, but the talent emerged unscathed and claimed that they were just reading what they were told.
Death has rescued Shaw temporarily from oblivion. But as the obituaries about his journalism pour in, this is what he should be remembered for.
CNN was always fake news.