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Although Time magazine has labeled much of its program a hoax and Sun International Pictures has been criticized by the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, among others, CBS is not backing away from the Utah-based production company or its "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark" TV special.

"We're doing an investigation of our own. We don't feel so far from all the evidence that they did anything wrong," said CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky. "There was clearly a hoax perpetrated, though. And we're not sure whether it was on Sun International and CBS or whether it was on Time magazine."The two-hour "Noah's Ark" special aired on CBS during the February sweeps to good ratings. It was almost immediately attacked by the Committee for Scientific Examination of Religion, which questioned the producers' methods and conclusions.

But that went largely unnoticed until Time published an article in June that included a claim by a biblical scholar that a portion of the show was an out-and-out hoax.

Gerald Larue, a professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California, said he had coached a man named George Jammal, who claimed to have seen the ark and to have in his possession a chunk of wood from it. Larue told both Time and the AP that he concocted the scheme to get back at Sun because he felt he'd been badly used in one of the company's prior documentaries.

As for the piece of the ark, he said it was just a chunk of wood that had been soaked in various juices and baked in an oven.

"They didn't test the wood," Larue told the AP. "They didn't even check on Jammal. They just bought into the story."

Sun has confirmed that it did not run tests on the wood but maintains it did check out Jammal.

"As far as we can tell, the research was very meticulous," Sagansky said. "I mean, there's a two-hour interview with George Jammal . . . before they decided to film him. They then gave (his interview) to biblical researchers and psychologists to determine the veracity of it."

While Jammal has offered to take a lie-detector test, Larue is refusing to speak to CBS.

And Sagansky openly questioned the veracity of Larue's claims about engineering the hoax.

"The crux of that (Time) article was that Dr. Larue from USC apparently put Mr. Jammal up to this hoax. And in fact, we have the exact same testimony from Jammal dating back to 1986," he said. "So unless this has been a lifelong work of Dr. Larue perpetrating this hoax . . . "

While CBS itself has been criticized for trying to brush the controversy under the carpet, Sagansky said an internal investigation is continuing and that, at its conclusion, the network will have a statement about its findings.

"It's something that we're taking very seriously, obviously, because we don't want to be a part of any hoax," he said. "But as far as I can see . . . Sun, and specifically (Sun International President) Chuck Sellier, was very meticulous about doing his research."

The experience and ensuing bad publicity has not soured CBS on working with Sun International.

"We've got a couple of specials we're talking about, which they're in the process of researching," Sagansky said.