George Crile III, the CBS producer who wrote the bestselling book “Charlie Wilson’s War” and produced a contested documentary that said Gen. William Westmoreland deliberately under-reported enemy troop strength in Vietnam, has died. He was 61.
Crile, who fought a $120 million libel suit over the 1982 CBS documentary, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at his Manhattan home, CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco said. He was the husband of Susan Lyne, president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia,
Crile adamantly defended “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception” against Westmoreland’s charges that the broadcast was an unfair and malicious assault on his reputation. The dispute was settled shortly before it was to go to the jury in 1985.
He worked for CBS News for more than 25 years. Among the stories he produced for “60 Minutes” and “60 Minutes II” were interviews with the wife of deposed Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and reports on Three Mile Island, the Gulf War and the KGB, the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency.
But he is perhaps best remembered for the Vietnam documentary, which implied Westmoreland had deceived President Lyndon Johnson and the public in 1967.
Though CBS stopped short of claiming victory after the case was settled, it said in a statement at the time that testimony during the 18-week trial had vindicated the documentary. Westmoreland, who died last year, said he was vindicated by the network statement, which called him a patriot.
Crile’s book “Charlie Wilson’s War” chronicled the CIA’s support for Islamic mujahedeen fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It was based on a 1988 profile he produced of Wilson, a former U.S. House member from Texas who used his position on the Appropriations Committee in the 1980s to prod Congress to buy arms for the mujahedeen.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the research and reporting Crile did for his book and on Islamic militancy — including an interview with a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle — gained new interest.
Tom Hanks bought the film rights to the book, and a movie version featuring Hanks as Wilson is in pre-production for Universal Studios.
Crile occasionally appeared on camera, most recently on “60 Minutes II” in September 2002 in a piece he produced for Dan Rather, who remembered him fondly.
“George Crile was a masterful journalist: He could and did report, write and broadcast at a consistently high level,” Rather said in a statement. “Besides that, he was a kind and gentle man who loved mentoring younger journalists.”
Crile, who grew up in Cleveland, was the grandson of Dr. George Crile, founder of the Cleveland Clinic.
In addition to his wife, survivors include four daughters and two sisters.