A Cold War ghost stalks reporter Why did Time hint that a veteran newsman took Soviet money?

August 11, 1996|By Albert Scardino

AS GEN. DOUGLAS MacArthur said about old soldiers, old wars may fade away, but not as long as the veterans hang around to stir up memories. For Time magazine, the conflict that won't go away is the Cold War, and the veteran doing the stirring is a journalist who Time suggested years ago may have been on the payroll of the Soviet Union's intelligence apparatus while serving as the Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post.

Time has promised to report in its issue on sale tomorrow (dated Aug. 19) that the magazine has settled a libel suit brought in Britain by the journalist, Dusko Doder, over its 1992 article, "A Cold War Tale." The article implied that Doder took money from the Soviets to plant information in the Post. Through omission and juxtaposition, by innuendo and rumor, the story suggested that Doder could be a tool of Soviet propagandists and might be a danger to American security in his subsequent assignment at home covering the CIA.

To settle the suit, Time apologized "for the distress and embarrassment he has been caused" without ever acknowledging that its own reporting may have been the cause of such feelings. The "Tale" had been intended as a "critical examination of the difficulties" journalists face when "operating in a dictatorial system," Time's lawyers said in court. As part of the settlement, Time agreed to report its capitulation to Doder, who now lives in Washington, where he is writing a book about Bosnia while serving as a senior fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, a government think tank.

Time Inc., a branch of the entertainment behemoth Time Warner, will pay Doder more than $260,000 and will cover his costs during nearly four years of litigation, a total expected to reach nearly $700,000 more.

"It was an amicable settlement," Doder said.

It was also a relief. Under British rules, had the case come to trial and had he lost, he would have faced a bill for his opponent's fees, a sum that will easily exceed $2 million, according to legal observers in London.

Doder, now 59, called the settlement "complete vindication." Time sounded more restrained. "Any disparagement of the plaintiff's reputation and professional integrity is withdrawn," the magazine's lawyers said. Settlement as opposed to conviction at trial, means never having to say you're sorry.

"Time magazine had done wrong," Doder said. "This will help restore my good name."

For Time, 73, restoration of reputation may take longer. The offending article, in the Christmas Week issue, Dec. 28, 1992, reported events alleged to have taken place eight years earlier, in a country that, even then, no longer existed. Its central allegation, that a KGB officer had passed Doder $1,000 while he was traveling outside of Moscow, ground through the intelligence community in slow motion: from the KGB agent to his bosses in Moscow in the early 1980s; who whispered it to Col. Vitaly Yurchenko, a senior KGB official, in 1984; who passed it to the CIA when he defected to the United States in the summer of 1985. The CIA passed it on as a rumor to the FB1, whose director, William Webster, handed it off a year later with no substantiation -- he said the agency couldn't find any -- to Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Post. It eventually reached Time in 1991. Having set off this chain in 1985, Yurchenko redefected to Moscow after only three months in the United States.

And why print a story focusing on Doder?

Bradlee dismissed the rumor as garbage. Even Time acknowledged in its article that everyone who had investigated the rumors, the CIA, the FBI and the Washington Post itself, had declared them baseless, so how did sixth-generation hearsay make its way into print? Under contemporary rules of journalism, the passing of words or ideas through official heads or across official tongues sanitizes them for publication.

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