Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Media Blackout worthy of Soviet Russia

I’m in WA state, so lets just say that Alabama politics doesn’t rank very prominently on my radar screen. But I think that has changed in recent days.

Given I spend far too much time reading news and blogs, I’ve seen the case of former Gov. Don Siegelman mentioned a few times. Siegelman, a Democrat, served as Governor of Alabama from 1998-2002. He narrowly lost in the 2002 election after the Justice Dept hounded him with an investigation into supposed dubious dealings. He was indicted and the case was thrown out of court by the presiding judge on the very first day. He decided to run again in 2006. The Justice Dept started to hound him in an entirely different investigation. DDay at Digby’s place sums up the case:

The nub of the case is that Siegelman allowed HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to remain on an oversight board on which he had already served, and in return Scrushy gave money to a noble effort to improve education in the state of Alabama, an effort Siegelman approved of. That's literally the reason that Siegelman is in a jail cell right now. This is the kind of thing that, were it actually considered bribery, would put every politician in America in jail. The case hung on evidence that Siegelman walked out of a meeting with Scrushy with the check, a baseless lie spouted by a convicted criminal on Siegelman's staff, and the Justice Department KNEW it was a lie and yet continued the case. 60 Minutes tried to talk with the accuser, a man named Nick Bailey, but the DoJ refused to authorize the interview (he's in a federal prison).

The prosecutors nabbed him and then told him he could get a light sentence if he worked with them to nail Siegelman, their real target. This very process is a perversion of the justice system, which as former U.S. Attorney Jones very properly says, requires that prosecutors investigate crimes and not people. But it gets still worse. Bailey testifies that he saw a check change hands at a meeting at which Scrushy’s appointment to the oversight board was decided. This is the evidence that landed Siegelman in prison. And it was false. And the prosecutors knew that it was false.

I never really knew many of these details until 60 minutes ran a piece last Sunday on the case. They interviewed former AG of Arizona Grant Woods, a life-long Republican, Co-Chair of the McCain for President leadership committee, and god-father to one of McCain’s kids. He’s a made man, IOW. He had this to say about the case:

“I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.”

Why did this case all of a sudden spark my interest? Well, it started when the Huntsville CBS affiliate went dark for 12 of the 13 minutes the Siegalman piece ran on Sunday:

[J]ust before the segment was to start, people in the northern part of the state who were tuned in to WHNT-TV, Channel 19 in Huntsville, found this on their screen instead:

We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring ‘The Prosecution of Don Siegelman.’ It was a technical problem with CBS out of New York.

A problem out of NY? Then why was only the affiliate affected? Scott Horton of Harper’s contacted CBS:

“There is no delicate way to put this: the WHNT claim is not true. There were no transmission difficulties. The problems were peculiar to Channel 19, which had the signal and had functioning transmitters.” I was told that the decision to blacken screens across Northern Alabama “could only have been an editorial call.”

So it wasn’t NY, it was AL. So what really happened? Given that their initial explanation, the one the broadcasted to their viewers, was BS, WHNT changed their story:

The station later denied that it was an editorial decision, but it also changed its explanation. It was the receiver of the signal in Alabama, not the feed from CBS, that caused the blackout, the station said in a statement.

“We can assure you there was no intent whatsoever to keep anyone from seeing the broadcast,” Stan Pylant, WHNT’s president, told The Huntsville Times.

Word is that the station was bombarded with angry viewers that don’t really appreciate media blackouts like those seen in fascist dictatorships. So WHNT ran the segment at 10:00 that night. Opposite the Oscars.

If there was more to this than simple technical error, what would motivate the WHNT to tamper with the dissemination of the free press? As always, follow the money. From Blue Girl, Red Sate:

WHNT is owned by Local TV LLC, and the CEO is a man named Bobby Lawrence.

Now, why is that relevant? Let's have a look at what Robert Lawrence has given to politicans:

[snip long list of contributions]

So the CEO of the company that owns WHNT is a big-time donor to Republicans, and his station goes black when it runs a story about corruption carried out by the Republican Party?

What a coinkydink...

So the station is owned by a Republican who gives handsomely to GOP politicians and campaigns. Big surprise.

This case already stunk to high heaven. No were have media moguls blocking the free press using methods worthy of the former USSR.

I wasn’t paying attention to this case before. I am now. Thanks WHNT for pissing me off.

No comments: