3 Comm. Law. 1 (1985)

handle is hein.journals/comlaw3 and id is 1 raw text is: 00
Communicafhons
C            cQuarterly publication of the Forum
American Bar Association
Volume 3 Number 1 Winter 1985
The Westmoreland Case Stirs Up
Important Policy Questions for the
Public and the Media
BY JOHN G. KOELTL
It has been called the libel trial of
the century, the final battle of the
Vietnam War, and the dismantl-
ing of a major news network. The
rhetoric, of course, refers to Gen-
eral William C. Westmoreland's
$120 million libel action against
CBS and various individuals, in-
cluding Mike Wallace, who were
involved in the making of the 1982
CBS Reports production, The Un-
counted Enemy: A Vietnam Decep-
tion. General Westmoreland has
charged that the CBS documentary
falsely accused him of having been
responsible for submitting to Presi-
dent Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of
Staff distorted and incomplete esti-
mates of enemy troop strength in
the year leading up to the Tet Offen-
A    .sive of January 1968. He has claimed
that the defendants incorrectly ac-
I ..  #h .cused him of having participated in
a conspiracy to present a decep-
;.  -   l ...' *i tively optimistic view of the prog-
ress of the Vietnam War by delib-
,erately underestimating the size of
the enemy forces.
The intense publicity about the
,. ,   lawsuit-including daily reports
from the front lines-has made the
. '  case increasingly important for the
.  media because, like the recent rash
of other prominent libel actions, it
can be viewed by some as a popular
judgment on the fairness and relia-
bility of the press. Whatever the
outcome of General Westmore-
4       .  .land's suit, the case already has
generated a series of interesting and
                                                     Continued on page 10
Article illustrations by Peter Hannan

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