To be sure, the real outrage in the scandal surrounding trumped up charges against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) are the charges themselves. Local Republican officials, in apparent conjunction with Karl Rove, railroaded a sitting governor because he was a Democrat. It was political corruption at its most pernicious.
But if we also take a moment to consider the Alabama media, the decisions of WHNT, the CBS affiliate in northern Alabama, are almost comical in their ineptitude.
In 1955, when WLBT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, Miss., did not want to run a network report about racial desegregation, it famously hung up the sign: “Sorry, Cable Trouble.” Audiences in northern Alabama might have suspected the same tactics when WHNT-TV, the CBS affiliate, went dark Sunday evening during a “60 minutes” segment that strongly suggested that Don Siegelman, Alabama’s former Democratic governor, was wrongly convicted of corruption last year.
The report presented new evidence that the charges against Mr. Siegelman may have been concocted by politically motivated Republican prosecutors — and orchestrated by Karl Rove. Unfortunately, WHNT had “technical problems” that prevented it from broadcasting a segment (the problems were resolved in time for the next part of the show) that many residents of Alabama would no doubt have found quite interesting.
After initially blaming the glitch on CBS in New York, the affiliate said it learned “upon investigation,” and following a rebuke from the network, that “the problem was on our end.” It re-broadcast the segment at 10 p.m., pitting it against the Academy Awards on rival ABC, before Daniel Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar. As public criticism grew, it ran it again at 6 p.m. on Monday.
WHNT’s president and general manager assured viewers that “there was no intent whatsoever to keep anyone from seeing the broadcast.”
No, of course not, it was only the most remarkable set of coincidences in modern broadcast history.
Consider the tale of the tape:
* WHNT is owned by one of the Bass brothers of Texas, former business partners of George W. Bush and generous contributors to Republican causes.
* WHNT’s broadcast signal was just fine before the Siegelman story on “60 Minutes,” and was just fine after the story ended.
* The Siegelman story was bound to make the state Republican machine and Rove’s office look pretty awful, which was apparent from pre-broadcast commercials.
* WHNT was harsh in covering Siegelman when he was governor.
* WHNT couldn’t keep its story straight about who was responsible for the “technical glitches.”
But no, there certainly couldn’t have been any “intent” to “keep anyone from seeing the broadcast.” Who could ever have thought such a thing?
The irony is, if WHNT was trying to suppress a report that made Republicans look bad, the station ended up creating a backlash — interest in the “60 Minutes” report soared once locals were led to believe they weren’t supposed to see it.
Suppressing the forbidden fruit sometimes only serves to make it more enticing, oddly enough.