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My mailbox has filled up with comments from people focusing on the “technical difficulties” that stopped transmission of the Don Siegelman feature – and just that segment – in last night’s 60 Minutes. In a sense, this was symptomatic of what I’ve discovered in eight months of burrowing into the intersection of law and politics in Alabama. It always reminds me of that powerful opener in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” We see a bucolic scene in small town America – everything is happy and wonderful. Then the camera burrows into the grass and zooms in and we see that it’s filled with menacing, frightening wicked things. Nothing about the Siegelman case functioned the way it was supposed to function, right from the beginning. But the veneer of normalcy was maintained, and a Koolaid-dispensing local media tenaciously held to the line that everything was just as it should be. Anyone who questioned what happened was coarsely derided as a whacko conspiracy theorist or a Siegelman fanatic.
So should we be surprised that last night’s events are disrupted at the Huntsville CBS affiliate, and the Huntsville Times deals with the question by posting on its website the official explanation of the station, while the New York Times gives the event in-depth coverage, comparing it with Pakistan’s war against YouTube? To be more precise, the Alabama media is now split between the independent small newspapers, whose suspicion about the story has been deeply aroused, and the Advance newspapers in Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville. In a scene out of another movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” the Advance papers continue to insist that their readers not look at the man standing behind that curtain! But that effort is becoming increasingly futile, and it is slowly destroying the reservoir of trust they have in the communities they should be serving.
In fact, the national media has not paid so much attention to Alabama since George Corley Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. And there’s every reason to believe that its interest is strongly growing. The politicization of the Justice Department is a front-burner issue on the national stage, and no state offers such a perfect demonstration of all the things that make the issue so troubling as Alabama. Its other attraction is Karl Rove’s undeniable connection to the Siegelman story. (Of course, Rove steadfastly denies the undeniable, which will only serve to strengthen his reputation as the maker of alternate realities.)
Today I received a number of appeals, including one from the CFO of the station’s owner, insisting that WHNT does not practice censorship and noting that the segment was being rebroadcast, yesterday evening at 10:20 p.m., and again this evening at 6:00 p.m. These decisions to rerun the program satisfy me that the station’s management is not bent on depriving North Alabamans of an opportunity to see the program. But the circumstances of the whole event, and the fact that the station first put out a false explanation leave me troubled. Here is WHNT’s account:
You received poor information from your unnamed CBS source who indicated WHNT in Huntsville did not have any CBS related problems in receiving the 60 Minutes feed on Sunday, 2/24/08. In fact one of our CBS receivers was in a documented fault 6:00 PM and the other was not sending out video. The Chief Engineer’s email trailing the events of last evening is below.
We do not censor programming. We did not censor 60 Minutes. We experienced a failure of one of our CBS receivers. I trust you will reference this on your talk show circuit today and make the necessary corrections to your website.
WHNT Report, Failure going into 60 Minutes on 2/24/08 at 6PM CT
At 7:03pm I received a call from Tracy Garrett at the DOC, Tracy said that we lost CBS when we went to 60 Minutes at 6:00pm. Tracy said he had talked to the station and they were trying to find out what was going on. I was about 10 blocks from the station at the time of the call and proceeded to the station as quickly as possible. When I arrived at the station I switched to CBS IRD 4 at the station placing CBS 60 Minutes back on air at 6:12:17. At that point I started investigating the problem. I called CBS control to see if they could determine what happened to cause the failure from our IRD’s at the transmitter site. CBS looked at the CBS rack and said that IRD one looked normal but there was a problem with IRD three, it appeared to be off channel with an alarm. At that point I sent Richard Hunter the assistant Chief engineer to the transmitter to determine what was going with the CBS signal from the receive site at the transmitter.
When Richard arrived he started trouble shooting the problem and determined that what CBS was saying was correct. When Richard looked at the output from IRD 1 there was no video and IRD three had an alarm because it was looking at the wrong channel. When Richard power cycled IRD one at 6:18:12Pm all IRD’s in the rack blinked and video returned from IRD one.
Maybe at some point we’ll learn exactly what happened to the station’s receiver that blocked only one segment of the 60 Minutes broadcast—the one that the citizens of North Alabama most wanted to see. It could of course have been a technical problem with some equipment, or it could have been an act of sabotage. But I think it’s a mistake for readers to focus their rage on WHNT. Anger is appropriate. And it should be focused on the culprits who carried out this gross miscarriage of justice.
Readers should keep in mind that Don Siegelman remains in prison cleaning latrines. He was imprisoned as the result of a corrupt vendetta that involved political hacks, politically motivated Justice Department figures and a politicized judiciary. Siegelman’s condition is a personal tragedy. But the hackery that produced his imprisonment is a cancer eating away at our society, slowly turning our nation into a banana republic. That’s far more important than the gremlins that took 60 Minutes off the air in the Tennessee Valley.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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