His name was George. Other names in this story will be changed. You know, to protect the innocent and all that. But George wasn’t innocent. That was the problem.
George was our boss on the universal desk. He was the one who interviewed and hired me to work at the paper. For a while, he seemed to me like a run of the mill middle manager — a little too enamoured of his own (rather limited) power, with a tendency to micromanage everything.
I came to find out that George was intensely disliked by most of the universal desk staff. He conducted himself like a petty tyrant. He wasn’t content with simply pointing out mistakes and offering constructive criticism. He’d call people into his office, shut the door, and berate them loudly enough for everyone to hear. He also played favorites. There were a handful of people he liked, and they were treated with kid gloves. Everyone else got loud, shouty George.
And there were a few people he was particularly hard on. They got called into the office more than anyone else, and got yelled at in a more prolonged and belligerent fashion. This led to a pretty high turnover rate, despite the fact that newspaper jobs were becoming harder and harder to come by.
It also led to a lot of hard feelings. Nobody particularly liked George, but there were some on the universal desk who absolutely loathed him. One of them, who I’ll call Harold, had actually been George’s boss at one time, but an organizational shuffle had left him as just another worker on the universal desk.
Harold had, in fact, been involved in the hiring process when George had originally applied to work at the paper. He’d come from the Dallas Morning News, a pretty prestigious gig. So of course he was good enough to work at the much smaller Times Record.
Harold, however, had been against hiring him. He’d called George’s references, and the folks at the Morning News were a bit cagey. “They didn’t tell me not to hire him,” Harold said to me once, “but they told me to be careful.”
What did that mean? None of us knew. People had tried at various times to dig up the history of George, but the internet wasn’t quite the robust dispenser of information back then that it is today. Plus, George has a VERY common name, and repeated Google searches turned up thousands and thousands of hits.
In my last post, I talked about my former friend Bob. Bob had worked with George in Dallas, and after George hired him, he was constantly pressured to tell us everything he knew about the man. But Bob was no snitch. It was clear he knew something, and he told us that if it ever came out, it would be bad. But he wasn’t going to be the one to share the information. This was immensely frustrating for all of us, as you might imagine. A universal desk staffer who was particularly anti-George told Bob, “Man, you’ve got George Kryptonite! Use it!”
Strangely enough, when the story finally did break, it happened on two separate fronts almost simultaneously. A former staffer who hated George more than any of us had gone to work in San Antonio. Let’s call him Frank. He was still friends with many of us at the newspaper, and kept in touch via e-mail fairly regularly. He was aware of the “George Kryptonite,” and was determined to find it and lob it directly in George’s direction.
Meanwhile, yet another former staffer — he’ll be Joe for the purposes of our little tale — was also on the trail of the secret weapon. Joe didn’t harbor any special hatred of George, just the garden variety hatred we all shared in common. I also believe Joe was motivated at least partially just by the mystery of the thing — he was genuinely curious about the dark secret.
Events at this point become a little chaotic. I’m not 100 percent sure who found the story first, but I believe it was Frank. It’s possible, in fact, that Joe found out through the Frank connection himself, but I’m almost certain his research was independent of Frank’s.
However it happened, the tale was told. In a blizzard of e-mails and phone calls, the universal desk staff were united and pointed to the website of a Dallas weekly newspaper, where the incredible story of George was laid out in black and white.
Our boss, the man we all hated, was at the center of a multi-state child pornography investigation. Details are fuzzy on how George was nabbed in the first place, but he was found by law enforcement to have child pornography in his possession. He also apparently ran a seemingly legitimate side business selling legal, adult porn through a mailing list.
George cut a deal with authorities. He would get a plea bargain and a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating in a giant sting operation. Officials used his mailing list to offer illegal, underage pornography to George’s customers, and swept up everyone that ordered the awful stuff. One man in Alabama had so much illegal child porn in his trailer that it required a two-ton postal truck to haul the stuff off.
That Alabama case also proved to be George’s undoing. Reporters for the local newspaper discovered a legal document tracing the sting back to George. Intrigued, they called up the only source they could think of for a lead: The Dallas Morning News. The Morning News had, obviously, not been made aware of the situation. George was fired, and the whole incident swept under the rug.
Until someone at that Dallas weekly paper found out about it, that is. They wrote up the whole case, highlighting the Morning News’ utter failure to cover what should have been a big news story, all apparently because one of their own employees had been involved.
It was also this apparent embarrassment on the part of the Morning News that allowed George to start working at the Times Record in the first place. They withheld their knowledge of the case when Harold called them to check his references. I’m guessing George didn’t mention it to anyone, either. And he almost certainly lied on that part of the application where they ask you if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony. Yes, George, accepting a plea-bargain for possessing kiddie porn counts as being convicted of a felony.
It’s unknown to me who sent the link up the chain of command. All I know for sure is that, after a couple of days of whispered conversations and amazed e-mails, George was suddenly gone. It was announced that he’d chosen to resign, but I think we all know what really happened. Harold suggested we all sing a round of “Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead.”
A few days later, a universal desk staffer was fired out of the blue. The rumor was that she had told a friend who worked at a local television station about the George story, and that someone at the station had contacted the Times Record for more information. The second part of that rumor is false. She did talk to a friend about the story, but she says, and I believe her, that the station wasn’t at all interested in a story that old. There’s no news angle to it. But word spread that she had spoken to someone at the TV station, and we all believed she was fired for doing so.
Some folks, notably Bob, received e-mails from George after he left. George blamed Bob for letting the old cat out of the bag. I don’t think he ever got it through his head that being such a crappy boss was his downfall, not the fact that he hired Bob in the first place. Even without Bob’s mere presence encouraging speculation as to what might have happened in Dallas, Frank and/or Joe would have tracked down the information.
Sadly, the firing of one universal desk staffer was not the end of the fallout from the George situation. You see, George was the biggest defender of the status quo, keeping the universal desk together despite demands from others that it be split up and a bunch of jobs moved to Springdale. With George gone, those demands became even louder, and within just a few months, the deed was done. My job was suddenly 70 miles away.
This is a classic “be careful what you wish for” scenario. The fired staffer and I both desperately wanted George gone. We got that, but we got a lot more than we bargained for in the process.