Thursday, September 23, 2004
What does it take to get fired?: At many jobs I've held both pre-journalism and now in the news business, that's one question that has occasionally come to mind as I've encountered people suffering from prodigious stupidity.
Well, Fox News has dug up an incident that should've gotten the CBS News producer behind the forged documents story fired years ago.
It is also not the first time that [Mary] Mapes has agreed to be a go-between in a controversial setting. FOX News has obtained a letter written to Mapes by the warden of a high security federal prison in Colorado.
He accused the CBS producer of concocting a scheme to help secretly pass information between convicted white supremacist Peter Langan and another federal prisoner, a violation of federal regulations.
"Phone monitoring reveals that you agreed to this request," the letter reads. "Your attempted misuse of the special mail privileges placed members of the public at risk."
The warden of the prison then revoked Mapes' correspondence, telephone and interview privileges with the high security inmate.
Fox News also has PDF images of the two page letter. (Page 1 | Page 2)
This is outrageous and should have prompted Mapes' firing three years ago. I've been inside one federal penitentiary (USP Lompoc) and to say these aren't nice people is an understatement. The security in these places make post-9/11 airport security look like a joke.
Metal detectors are set so sensitive that the little metal rivets in a pair of jeans set them off -- as will tacks in the heel fo dress shoes. When exiting the prison, reporters are directed to go and stand in a yellow circle as the prison public information officer contines toward the gate. The first time I made this visit I asked why I had to do that. The response was: "Otherwise that guy in the tower will think you're an inmate with a knife at my back and shoot you."
In the two years that I covered that prison at least one inmate was murdered and violence was not uncommon. Guards wear motion sensors and have panic buttons. When one goes off, everyone comes running. I was talking on the phone to the guards' union representative once when one of these went off and the racket in the background was impressive -- for the 1 second it took for him to say "gotta go" and hang up on me.
In this sort of atmosphere, for a journalist to offer to help a dangerous felon to communicate who knows what, secretly, to another high-security inmate is shocking. This could've easily put lives in danger.
Falling for obviously forged documents, rushing to broadcast them without properly vetting them, impugning the integrity of your critics and a refusal to admit wrongdoing is minor league compared to trying to help an inmate at a federal penitentiary bypass security.
If CBS didn't fire Mapes in 2001 for that transgression, they're not going to can her for this one.
What does it take to get fired at CBS News? Obviously way too much.