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February 27, 2008
A CBS affiliate in northern Alabama showed dead air during a segment of “60 Minutes” that raised questions about the prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman, who was jailed last June on corruption charges. The segment linked the federal prosecution of Siegelman, a Democrat, to GOP strategist Karl Rove. The station, WHNT, initially blamed Sunday's 12-minute outage on CBS, but later said its satellite receiver had malfunctioned; it rebroadcast the 13-minute segment twice. (Reuters) “The receiver failed at the worst possible time, and there’s nothing I can do to make some people believe it,” said WHNT general manager Stan Pylant. (AP via Google News)
What the commentators said
WHNT’s “technical problems” certainly look suspicious, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration), especially in a state where eerily similar reports of “cable trouble” were used to avoid showing a 1955 report on racial desegregation. Adding to the intrigue, WHNT is owned by a private equity firm led by Bush’s ex-business partner who, with his brother, are “generous contributors to Republican causes.” But “if the blackout was intentional, it may also have been counterproductive,” as it raised the profile of the Siegelman case and “lent support” to the partisan-conspiracy charges.
“We’re not quite ready to accept any conspiracy theory,” said the University of Alabama Crimson White in an editorial. Yes, Siegelman’s trial did “have a certain air of shadiness,” but even without the “possible federal impropriety,” Siegelman “played fast and loose with ethical rules” throughout his governorship, and so he owns “some responsibility for his fate.” The charges from “60 Minutes” should be “fully investigated,” but Siegelman gets “very little sympathy.”
He deserves more than sympathy, said Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine. Siegelman’s imprisonment is a “personal tragedy,” a “gross miscarriage of justice,” and the result of “a corrupt vendetta that involved political hacks, politically motivated Justice Department figures, and a politicized judiciary.” But the “veneer of normalcy” around the case pushed by the “Koolaid-dispensing local media” is becoming “increasingly futile” to maintain, so maybe this is a turning point in this shoddy attempt to turn “our nation into a banana republic.”
After years of rumors and charges, the local “mainstream media” was “convinced Siegelman was guilty and ready to move on,” said Tom Baxter in Southern Political Report. But left-leaning blogs and smaller local papers always kept the story alive. So if WHNT had “any intention of suppressing the story”—which it denies—a TV blackout was a “quaintly old-fashioned,” and certainly doomed, tool to use.
of The Week magazine.