MediaWatch: March 1989

Vol. Three No. 3

Frontline's Fabricated Facts

In May 1986 the left-wing Christic Institute brought a $24 million suit against a group of Contra leaders, U.S. military officers and members of government agencies, alleging they participated in assassinations, terrorism, drug smuggling and gun running in Central America. The suit's damage to the public image of the Contras was amplified by April 19 and May 17 PBS Frontline shows last year which explained the Christic theory and thereby helped legitimize their allegations. The programs earned the June 1988 Janet Cooke Award.

Leslie Cockburn, a former CBS News producer who put together the May 17 program, champions Christic Institute lawyer Daniel Sheehan in her book, Out of Control: The Story of the Reagan Administration's Secret War in Nicaragua, the Illegal Arms Pipeline, and the Contra Drug Connection. Even when Federal District Court Judge James King threw out the groundless suit in June 1988, Frontline Senior Producer Mike Sullivan defended the shows as presenting "credible information."

On February 3, Judge King awarded General John Singlaub, Contra leader Adolfo Calero, General Richard Secord and 11 other defendants $1 million in attorney fees and court costs. King decided the Christic suit was "based upon unsubstantiated rumor and speculation." King accused Sheehan of "abuse of the judicial process." Sheehan, the judge added, "must have known prior to suing that they had no competent evidence to substantiate the theories alleged in their complaint."

Will Frontline now make amends by running a show revealing the lies and deceit of the Christic Institute? Frontline has received a letter from MediaWatch requesting just such an enlightening examination.