Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boot the Messenger

CNN Investigative Reporter Drew Griffin is one of my favorite people in TV news. He and I first worked together back in the mid-90s at KCBS in Los Angeles, where the two of us made a kind of juvenile game out of seeing who could better embarrass the other on television. I drafted him to do a light news story that most would've considered far beneath his abilities (but which eventually wound up surprising the hell out of both of us by winning him and myself a Golden Mic award); he returned the favor by making me a guinea pig in an investigation he was doing on drunk boating, basically taking me out to a lake and encouraging me to get hammered before hopping onto a jet ski -- all while taping the entire thing. (I still remember his exact quote from the finished piece: "After a half a bottle of tequila, Chez became foul-mouthed, belligerent, and unwilling to accept that he could no longer drive.") Despite these kinds of shenanigans however -- the things local TV people have to do to keep their minds from completely stagnating -- make no mistake: Drew Griffin has always been one of the hardest working and most talented journalists around.

So you can imagine my shock when I found out that he's also, apparently, a threat to national security.

Last week, CNN ran a piece in which Drew Griffin confirmed that he's been placed on the TSA's infamous and extensive Terrorist Watch List. The question many are now asking: Was he put there as some form of payback for an investigation he did a couple of months ago on both the TSA and the Federal Air Marshal Service? In the original report that ran on Anderson Cooper's show, AC 360, Griffin revealed that fewer than 1% of all daily commercial flights are protected by air marshals. What's more, he talked to some within the service's rank and file who complain that morale is so low that many experienced marshals are leaving in disgust -- only to be replaced by TSA screeners who are quickly being given weapons and put on planes, even though they have no law enforcement or military experience. (Hell, anybody who's traveled by air within the past couple of years knows that some TSA screeners behave as if they barely qualify to work at a Burger King.)

According to a separate story by investigative reporter and aviation terrorism expert Annie Jacobsen -- and last week's report by Drew Griffin himself -- the TSA and Homeland Security are now putting all their resources not into fixing the problems the initial report exposed, but into finding the people who aided Griffin in exposing them. Essentially, they're going on a witch hunt within their own organizations looking for the anonymous tipsters and whistleblowers who helped Drew Griffin hold them up for shame them on national television.

Which leads us to Drew's sudden appearance on the Terrorist Watch List.

Texas congresswoman and notorious troublemaker Sheila Jackson Lee is calling for a probe into what would seem to be the TSA's spiteful act of vengeance against Griffin for his investigation. Jackson Lee confronted DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, a man who's used to being called to the carpet for his agency's dangerous ineptitude, and asked him flat-out, "Why would Drew Griffin’s name come on the watch list, post-his investigation of TSA? What is the basis of this sudden recognition that Drew Griffin is a terrorist? Are we targeting people because of their critique or criticism?” Chertoff responded by rattling off his department's usual horseshit answer: It's probably just a coincidence that Griffin shares a name with someone recently put on the list.

Needless to say, as Annie Jacobsen notes in her own story on this mess, it requires a pretty painful game of Twister within the logic center of your brain to actually accept that somebody else named Drew Griffin was discovered to be a potential terrorist threat seven years after 9/11 but just a week or two after investigative reporter Griffin's exposé aired on CNN.

The more likely, though more unsettling, possibility is that Griffin did exactly what he was supposed to do as an investigative reporter and ruffled a few feathers in a some very high places.

He set out to reveal the incompetence of one of this country's most powerful and essential government agencies -- and may have wound up revealing its petty maliciousness as well.


Suzy said...

chez, please tell me this isn't true... what the fuck is wrong with these people? i'm hoping there will be some follow-up in about six months to catalogue all the poor people dismissed for cooperating. "AMERICA'S GESTAPO" fear it.

b80vin said...

I don't know, Chez...Chertoff being vindictive is kind of a stretch. He's always seemed so magnanimous to me. In any even, even if true, we already have too many rights, we need a smart competent government entity to "manage" them. What are we going to do? Report them?

Girl With Curious Hair said...

Obviously, as a member of the liberal media, he is supporting the terrorists by telling them that TSA is an incompetent joke. Why do you want the terrorists to win?

The good news is, he's in good company with the other 999,985 people on the Terrorist Watch List who's only sin is having a suspicious sounding name or objecting to the war.

Jen said...

This is what happens when you put mall cops in charge of national security.

VOTAR said...

They wasted half a bottle of tequila to find out you are foul-mouthed and belligerent?

Thomas said...

I think the bigger shame out of this is it's not a serious Member of Congress but a Member who her own ill behaviour is a thing of legend among Hill staff. It has gotten so bad at one point an airline told her she didn't need to frequent their flights any longer. An issue this serious and worthy of attention deserves someone to look at it who is of equal measure of responsibility.

A former Hill staffer.

Ben Fleming said...

Anyone else feel that we should petition for a rename of "Homeland Security" to something more appropriate - and less suggestive that the organization involved actually protects people?

A Bowl Of Stupid said...

Dammit, Votar beat me to that one!!

dick_gozinia said...

Thomas says:

An issue this serious and worthy of attention deserves someone to look at it who is of equal measure of responsibility.

This definitely sounds like a job for Larry Craig. After all, he's a big fan of airports and knows how crafty their security can be.

alan-de-smet said...

"...aviation terrorism expert Annie Jacobsen...."

Aviation terrorism expert?! Being scared of Arab musicians on a plane hardly qualifies one as an expert on aviation terrorism. Actual commercial pilot Patrick Smith summarized her credentials. ( And more, more, more, and more, because the woman wouldn't shut up about it, and people kept listening to her hysterical panicking.) The woman is a racist, chickenshit fearmonger. She may be a great investigative journalist, but as an expert in "aviation terrorism" she's useless.

Chez said...

That's a hell of a column in Salon. I admit that I didn't extensively research Jacobsen's background and was relying mostly on her publication's own sponsorship of her. On the other hand, these days especially it's easy for one person to pick apart another's credentials via the internet, making it almost impossible to know whom to trust. One of the problems with modern journalists is that if they cover a beat long enough, they become (or at least they think they become) de facto experts on the subject. Maybe I was wrong to so casually refer to her in this manner; like I said though, you'll always find someone more knowledgable and with a different opinion willing to beat down whatever claims one person makes these days. Thanks for offering up the other side.

alan-de-smet said...

My apologies. I didn't mean to imply that you suck, Chez. Far from it! It's the real world, and you have to rely on other people's summaries to keep from drowning in too much information. You've got better things to do than investigating the author of every article you read. Jacobsen, obviously, annoys the hell out of me. I just wanted to give a heads up to provide some context on her. If I came across as suggesting that you screwed up, my apologies; I was sloppy in my frustration with the Jacobsen.