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CNN's Arnett Dodges A Bullet

Correspondent Peter Arnett will keep his job. Arnett met Wednesday with senior CNN executives who decided a reprimand he received will stand. Arnett was rebuked for his role in an erroneous story that the U.S. used never gas during the Vietnam War.

The meeting began at 8 a.m. and a statement by Tom Johnson, CNN News Group chairman, was issued shortly before 5 p.m. with no elaboration.

"Peter Arnett's reprimand stands. No further personnel actions are planned," Johnson said.

Before the meeting, Arnett said he realized he could be fired but doing so would be unfair because he had no decision-making role in the June 7 story.

Two producers have been fired and another quit after CNN's retraction last week for the report that nerve gas was used during a 1970 mission in Laos to track down American defectors.

Arnett said he stayed up until 3 a.m. writing an eight-page brief for CNN executives, many of whom he maintained did not know what his role had been.

He said he was brought in late on the story to ask scripted questions on camera of people already interviewed extensively by producer April Oliver and others.

He said that is how a new network newsmagazine works, but not the way he usually works. Arnett, a 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winner for the AP who went on to become a CNN star for his reporting out of Baghdad during the Gulf War, called himself an "action reporter" who does his own research.

Arnett said he did three interviews for the story: one in Kansas, one in North Carolina and one in Oregon. He said he was in Baghdad for most of the previous four months, during which the story was researched and reported.

He said he didn't write any of an accompanying Time magazine article that carried his byline with Oliver's.

Asked why he didn't question the nerve gas story harder, he said: "I had no real reason to doubt it. I didn't do the research, I didn't know whether it was true or not. Laos was a black hole during the war. A lot went on there that we didn't know about."

CNN has been roiled in the wake of the report. Network officials have been conducting a series of "town hall meetings" with employees to discuss the retraction. Some employees have criticized CNN for forcing out three producers but only reprimanding Arnett, according to published reports.

Johnson said Tuesday he apologized to CNN employees at the meetings. He also said he telephoned apologies to members of the Special Forces team that carried out the mission, called Operation Tailwind.

CNN retracted its report ,heavily criticized by the military, after a CNN-requested review by media attorney Floyd Abrams concluded the reporting couldn't support allegations that the operation used the poison gas sarin, that American defectors were targeted or that they were even in the Laotian camp where the mission was carried out.

Abrams also said information contradicting the tory's conclusion had been discarded.

Johnson said the network was "resolved to learn the important lessons of this," and had appointed Rick Davis as executive vice president of editorial standards and practices. Davis, a member of the network's launch team in 1980 and now a senior vice president who oversees CNN's Washington-based talk shows, will review "all significant reporting" for accuracy, fairness and responsibility.

"It's been a very bleak time here, and now we are trying to put in place new procedures dedicated to making sure there's no recurrence," Johnson said.

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