June 7th, 2010
12:19 PM ET

Trip to Gulf islands shows scale of cleanup efforts yet to come

David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

ON NORTHSHORE BAY, Louisiana—It’s difficult to imagine the scale and depth of the back breaking work that lies ahead for Louisiana and the other Gulf states until you spend some time on the water with people whose job it is to protect the environment.

Along with CNN Photojournalist Orlando Ruiz, I took a five hour trip to look at only a few of the hundreds of marsh islands that dot the Mississippi Delta country at the very tip of Louisiana. Taking us on the tour was the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, custodians of the estimated 15,000 miles of coastline that make the state unique.

I took the trip in preparation for a planned CNN Special Investigations Unit report that later this week on AC 360° that will examine the Minerals Management Service. The MMS is an agency within the Department of Interior that has proven to be a key player in the oil spill crisis, even though with all the coverage given the spill, few Americans know of the agency and fewer still know what it does.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/07/fitz1_web.jpg caption="Oil soaked boom on island at entrance to Gulf of Mexico"]

The MMS, as one oil industry expert told me, is the nation’s landlord of all of the oil and gas tenants in the Gulf. The latest count is that there are something like 4,000 or so oil or gas platforms and the MMS deals with all of them.

Like a landlord, the MMS takes in rent—the royalties that companies like British Petroleum pay to the U.S. treasury for the privilege of operating either close in or deep water drilling platforms. And the MMS also has a statutory duty to inspect those rigs, take careful note of the safety and overall conditions of the rigs and, if necessary, deny permits to drill or continue drilling.

But if the MMS fails in its job, or as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in late May, it has a “cozy” relationship with the oil companies that it’s supposed to regulate, then you can see the real world impact on the islands we saw near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Oil began arriving at NorthShore Bay in Louisiana two weeks ago, according to the Wildlife and Fisheries Department. On our tour, you could see miles and miles of booms laid around the marsh islands. But under a blazing sun, it was also clear that most of the booms had become fully saturated. Oil was not only seeping into the roso-cane reeds that dominate the islands but it had also broken through the containment booms. The roso-cane reeds closest to the edge of the water had already been destroyed. Small wisps of green leaf on the very top of the reeds were the only visible sign of life.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/07/fitz2_web.jpg caption="Destroyed marsh reeds near Gulf of Mexico"]

Sgt. Ray Champagne of the Wildlife and Fisheries began telling his headquarters that the booms had become saturated and that new ones needed to be brought out to the islands. He gave the exact coordinates but soon gave up and told his superiors that every boom he saw needed to be replaced.

Sgt. Champagne also had one other piece of unhappy news. As we rode along the Mississippi River, he pointed out that the water level was unusually high. By the end of the month, he added, the water is bound to decrease, making oil contamination that much more certain.

May 24th, 2010
12:33 PM ET

Crew: Pirate warnings ignored

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/24/getty.richard.phillips.jpg caption="Capt. Richard Phillips spent four days as a hostage after the attempted seizure of the Maersk Alabama. "]

By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

The captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama ignored explicit warnings to stay well off the coast of Somalia before his capture by pirates in 2009, according to 16 of its 19 crew members.

"It's almost like he wanted to be captured," the ship's chief engineer, Mike Perry, told CNN in an interview to air on tonight's "AC360."

Capt. Richard Phillips spent four days as a hostage after the attempted seizure of the Maersk Alabama. After his rescue by U.S. Navy SEAL commandos, Phillips was lauded as a hero, and the publisher of his new book promoted him as a sea captain who risked his life by offering himself as a hostage "in exchange for the safety of the crew."

The 16 crew members have been far less public about the events, even as Phillips toured the country this spring to promote his book, "A Captain's Duty." But now they are telling a different version of what took place in the waters off the Somali coast in early April 2009.

Perry, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, was the chief engineer aboard the Alabama as it sailed from Oman, in the Persian Gulf, to Mombasa, Kenya, with a cargo of relief supplies. He told CNN Correspondent Drew Griffin that Phillips' decision "certainly warrants an investigation."


May 24th, 2010
12:30 PM ET
January 29th, 2010
09:24 PM ET

First stimulus project nears completion, job questions remain

David Fitzpatrick
CNN's Special Investigative Unit

A town with a population of 218 sitting more than three hours from St. Louis would seem like an unlikely place for the nation's first stimulus project.

Yet the progress is apparent on a new $9 million bridge over the Osage River, and the span is scheduled to receive its first automobile and truck traffic sometime in midsummer. It's replacing a bridge built when Franklin Roosevelt was president on what the Missouri Department of Transportation says is the most direct link between Missouri's capitol, Jefferson City, and a large U.S. Army installation, Fort Leonard Wood.

The earth-moving equipment kicked in only minutes after President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill his administration pushed through Congress 11 months ago. Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, was present at the first shovel turning and the state paid for a satellite truck to beam images of the ceremony to every resident of the state who wanted to see it.

State and federal officials said at that time that the bridge would create about 30 direct jobs and spin off another 220 "indirect" jobs - supplying the steel, pouring the concrete and boosting the local community's economy.

Keep reading...

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Fitzpatrick • Stimulus
November 9th, 2009
05:32 PM ET

The night the Wall fell down

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the end of communism across Eastern Europe.

David W. Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

There’s a lot to read and a lot to see today about the events 20 years ago on Nov. 9, 1989 when East Germany (technically a splendid oxymoron called the German Democratic Republic) took no action and the infamous Berlin Wall was reduced to a footnote of history.

I was there for those tumultuous and joyous events as a producer for the CBS Evening News and above all else, the one thing that sticks in my mind is not the tremendous geo-political fallout, but rather the voices and faces of the people of both East and West Berlin.

When I arrived in Berlin after an overnight flight from New York and then on the only Western airline allowed into West Berlin (remember Pan American World Airways?), enormous crowds had already started to build near the Wall and the adjacent Brandenburg Gate.

One of the first people I recognized — and he, being a seasoned politician enjoyed the recognition — was the mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt. His long time symbol was a red rose that he always wore in lapel of his suit. He was beaming as we approached with our camera crew and in perfect English began to give us an interview drenched in politics and logic, but mostly void of emotion.


September 2nd, 2009
06:46 PM ET

$100,000 buys patient new kidney but not good health

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/09/02/organ.brokers/art.kidney.father.jpg caption="Yechezekel Nagauker in a Chinese hospital where he got a kidney transplant after paying $100,000."]

Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

In a dank Tel Aviv hospital room, you can see at a glance just how desperate some Israelis are for a new kidney.

In one bed, Ricki Shai's mother lies practically unresponsive. Her diabetes is slowly killing her. It already has forced the amputation of both of her legs.

Sitting in a bed beside her is Shai's father, Yechezekel Nagauker, also a diabetic. But he decided, his daughter says, not to wait for a kidney donor.

"My father didn't want to be like my mother," Shai told CNN.

In April, Nagauker cut a deal with a kidney broker who promised him a new life and a new kidney for $100,000. It was available only in China, the donor said.

"The broker went to him and suggested that he become a new man. 'Come with me. Two days, $100,000, and two days you will be a new man,'" Shai said.

Today, Shai calls the broker "the killer."

Nagauker's body is rejecting the new kidney.

Keep Reading...

August 19th, 2009
09:03 PM ET

A producer remembers working with Don Hewitt

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/08/19/hewitt.obit/art.hewitt.dies.gi.jpg caption="Don Hewitt joined CBS News in 1948."]

David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

When I heard the news that “60 MINUTES” creator and long-time Executive Producer Don Hewitt had died, I have to say I wasn’t shocked. At Walter Cronkite’s funeral, he appeared weary and infirm.

But that is clearly not the Don Hewitt I remember. I was a producer for “60 MINUTES” in the mid-90s, working with Correspondent Morley Safer. Then, as now, each correspondent had a team of four, even five producers assigned to him or her. Each producer was expected to produce and deliver at least four segments for broadcast during each television season. Do the math and you come up with 20 to 25 stories apiece for Morley, Mike Wallace, the late Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl and so on. Enough to fill up a season.

For a producer like me, the passion and the research and the storytelling leading up to a screening of what you and your correspondent engineered on a particular story was a captivating process. But the next step—screening the a draft version of the result before Don Hewitt and the other senior staff at 60 MINUTES was both satisfying and, I have to admit, terrifying.


July 14th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Internet is the new street corner drug dealer

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/HEALTH/05/21/online.drugs/art.mail.order.drugs.03.cnn.jpg caption= "These pills were sent to CNN's Drew Griffin, even though he was never seen by a doctor."]

Editor's Note: Four Emmy nominees for Outstanding Investigative Reporting on a Regularly Scheduled Newscast were announced today. CNN's David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffith were nominated for their pieces on online prescription drug abuse.

Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

Every night before he went to bed, he would open a prescription bottle of the muscle relaxant Soma and swallow the 8 or 9 pills his wife says would be the only way he could get to sleep. Only last summer the doses were increasing.

She thought the drugs, arriving at her doorstep every week were being prescribed by a treating physician. Her husband had been in a car accident, suffered from back pain, and Soma was the one drug that could relieve the aches.

She was wrong. Although she wants to protect her husband’s identity and hers so as not to embarrass her husband’s family, she is willing to tell the story of how he died.

She found him last August in bed in a pool of vomit. FULL POST

July 14th, 2009
11:40 AM ET

Internet drug sales crackdown

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/HEALTH/05/21/online.drugs/art.mail.order.drugs.03.cnn.jpg caption= "These pills were sent to CNN's Drew Griffin, even though he was never seen by a doctor."]

Editor's Note: Four Emmy nominees for Outstanding Investigative Reporting on a Regularly Scheduled Newscast were announced today. CNN's David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffith were nominated for their pieces on online prescription drug abuse.

David Fitzpatrick
Special Investigations Unit Producer

If there was any doubt at all that the sale of prescription drugs over the internet, without a doctor’s legitimate authorization, is very big business, what happened in Kansas over the last couple of days should dispel those notions in a heartbeat.

The Kansas Attorney General’s office arrested and jailed three people, a pharmacist and the co-owners of a small pharmacy in the northwestern part of the state, on multiple felony and misdemeanor counts. Hogan’s Pharmacy is in a tiny town called Lyons. And according to documents filed in court, this small storefront operation, in a town of no more than 3,000 people, handled nearly $1.9 million in wire transfers in 2007 alone.

CNN Correspondent Drew Griffin and I went to Lyons a few months ago as part of an AC 360 investigation into internet prescription abuse. We had met and interviewed a young widow only the day before. Her husband had ordered the muscle-relaxant drug Soma over the internet—time and time again. Many of the pills came from Hogan’s Pharmacy and came without any legitimate order from a physician. One day last year, she went to their bedroom and found her husband unresponsive. He had died of an overdose of Soma.

There’s a good reason why doctors limit doses of Soma. Research by the Food and Drug Administration shows that it is one of those class of drugs which can be easily abused. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there’s now some consideration being given to classifying Soma as a “controlled substance,” putting it in the same category of dangerous drugs such as Xanax and Hydrocodone..

I was sitting in my New York City office when that widow telephoned me to express her thanks to the Kansas authorities and to CNN for the investigative work. She told me she would likely testify in any coming trials and was looking forward to doing so.

Keeping them honest, we’ll continue to investigate prescription drug sales over the Internet.

Attorney General Steve Six announced charges today against Hogan’s Pharmacy owners Jolane and Mark Poindexter for their part in an Internet pharmacy scheme. The pharmacist in charge, Rick Kloxin, was charged earlier this week.

June 22nd, 2009
05:00 PM ET

On Tehran streets, echoes of 1979 Iranian revolution

Editor's Note: David Fitzpatrick was a producer for CBS News based in London during the Iranian revolution and hostage taking crisis.  He spent 26 years at CBS News before joining CNN in 2001

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/22/iran.election.criticism/art.tehran.protests.afp.gi.jpg caption="Image obtained on June 21 shows Iranian riot police blocking protesters on a street of Tehran on June 20."]

David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

The events playing out on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities offer an eerie mirror image of the revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeni to power in 1979.

Protestors are surging through the streets, international governments are unsure how or even if they should act and Iranian politics are as difficult as ever to decipher from abroad.

There is also another constant that is clear over the course of three decades: the ability of the authoritarian Iranian government to close down international journalists at the precise moment when objective observation of stark events on the ground is needed the most.

I know. I was in Tehran and other Iranian cities for months in 1979 and 1980. I was part of a very large contingent of international broadcast journalists allowed into the country just as the American hostages were being taken at the U.S. Embassy.

There seemed to be no limit on the amount of personnel we were allowed to bring in.  For CBS News, where I worked, I think we had close to 50 people brought in from England (where I was based), the U.S., Germany, France and nearly every other international bureau where CBS News had set up shop.


Filed under: 360° Radar • David Fitzpatrick • Iran
« older posts
newer posts »