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.