Jack Smith, co-producer of the infamous "Valley of Death" story that launched and virtually sank CNN's synergistic Newsstand
efforts and led to Smith's firing, last week called his settlement with the network—exactly three years after the story aired—"a down payment on the restoration of my reputation."
Neither Smith, who currently teaches in two Chicago-area colleges, nor his attorney Roger Simmons would disclose the amount, but they described the settlement as "substantial." Simmons, who represented Smith's co-producer April Oliver in an earlier, similar suit against CNN, said, "It will make Jack's life a great deal easier." Both Oliver and Smith claimed wrongful termination, tortious interference and defamation. CNN confirmed the settlement but would not comment further.
Oliver has not commented on the amount of her settlement, but it has been estimated in the low seven-figure range. CNN has settled or won dismissal on several of the myriad Tailwind claims. Famed war correspondent Peter Arnett, whose role in the story was limited to narrating and some reporting, was another Tailwind casualty and left the network following an initial reprimand and later a negotiated settlement.
Smith and Oliver, now a law student, lost their jobs after the Operation Tailwind story brought criticism from the military, and a report from renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams commissioned by the network concluded that the story was not sufficiently supported. The 1998 "Valley of Death" story alleged that, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military took covert action against American defectors that included the use of nerve gas. The story was quickly attacked as untrue by current and past defense personnel.
Both Oliver and Smith maintain that their story was well-reported and accurate and that CNN's mistake was to retract it. They have also been critical of Abrams' report, particularly for its input from a CNN lawyer who had helped vet their story.
The controversy damaged CNN's attempt at synergy among its news network and owner Time-Warner's magazine properties and brought damage as well to the term of then-CNN U.S. President Rick Kaplan.