In what attorneys for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund yesterday called "an unprecedented retraction by a television station," Channel 9 aired an apology and a complete exoneration of the Fund, one year to the day after WDVM began broadcasting a controversial four-part series of reports that, in WDVM's words, "raised serious questions regarding the financial propriety" of the Fund.
In addition, the station on Monday donated $50,000 to the Memorial Fund toward the maintenance of the memorial, located on the Mall.
WDVM is owned by the Evening News Association of Detroit.
VVMF president Jan Scruggs yesterday said WDVM was "honorable and courageous to deal with the situation in the way they did."
Scruggs and VVMF board chairman John P. Wheeler had been principal targets of the reports, which aired on "Eyewitness News" over four nights, starting Nov. 7, 1983.
Both Scruggs and Wheeler were singled out for on-air apologies in last night's statement.
WDVM news director Dave Pearce, who had approved the original series of investigative reports by reporter Carlton Sherwood (called "Vietnam Memorial: A Broken Promise?") read the statement at the conclusion of the 6 p.m. news and again at 11 p.m.
Sherwood left WDVM some time after the broadcasts and is now a reporter for The Washington Times. Sherwood could not be reached for comment last night.
At the heart of the WDVM reports were questions of how much of the $9 million raised for the Memorial had been spent. Sherwood had claimed only $2.6 million had gone for construction.
As a result of the broadcast charges, the General Accounting Office made an audit, and in May gave the Fund a clean bill of health. Congressional supporters of the Fund made a point of publicizing the GAO report and VVMF officials pondered a possible suit against the station.
In his statement last night, Pearce referred to the audit, pointing out that the "GAO concluded that the Fund had conducted its affairs in a highly commendable manner."
Pearce said that "we aired the series because we believed it accurately represented the facts as we knew them at the time. While we continue to believe that we have acted responsibly throughout this controversy, it is obvious that the Memorial Fund may have been harmed by our reports and that at least some of its officers may have suffered personally as a result. The bottom line is that the suspicions aroused in our reports about the Fund were unfounded."
"To officially set the record straight," Pearce continued, "we would like to correct any impression left from our broadcasts last November that the Memorial Fund or its officers have done anything improper. We regret any harm that may have been caused to the Memorial Fund and its officers. The evidence indicates they performed a great public service.
"The GAO investigation turned up no evidence which supported the statement made in our series. In addition, our own internal investigation into the story has turned up no evidence to support the charges made during last year's reports.
"Once again, we sincerely regret and apologize for any harm these reports may have caused to the Memorial Fund, John Wheeler, Jan Scruggs or any other officers or directors of the Memorial Fund."
Pearce declined to elaborate on his remarks following the 6 p.m. broadcast but did confirm that the Fund had threatened to sue before the settlement.