George Crile dies, author of bestseller on history of Afghan war against the USSR
George Crile, a television news producer who specialized in attacking difficult, controversial subjects, most famously in a documentary for CBS alleging that Gen. William C. Westmoreland and his military colleagues deliberately underestimated enemy troop numbers in the Vietnam War, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 61.
Mr. Crile, who spent much of his career working on the CBS program "60 Minutes," took on formidable topics, many in foreign countries, and earned a reputation for boldness that both won awards and drew stinging criticism. His 1982 documentary about Vietnam, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," engendered one of the most bitter disputes in television history.
Working with the correspondent Mike Wallace and others, Mr. Crile attempted to build a case that General Westmoreland, the United States commander in Vietnam, participated in a conspiracy to mislead Americans about the war. The charge was that the military had deliberately underestimated enemy numbers in order to encourage Americans to believe the war was going favorably.
TV Guide printed an article listing ways it said the "CBS Reports" documentary violated network fairness standards, and a subsequent internal CBS investigation found 11 instances in which the program violated network guidelines or was unfair. General Westmoreland strenuously denied the program's charges and sued for libel, asking $120 million in damages.
The result was an 18-week trial in late 1984 and early 1985; CBS and General Westmoreland agreed to an out-of-court settlement in which no money changed hands shortly before the jury was to retire for deliberation.
He wrote a book, "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History" (2003), that told how a Texas congressman and a C.I.A. operative worked together to supply Afghan rebels with weapons to fight the Soviets; the Russians' defeat helped precipitate the end of Soviet Communism and helped bring militant Muslims to power in Afghanistan. A movie is being made of the book.
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