Copps wants to investigate WHNT-TV outtage


A story involving a highly controversial legal case in Alabama, involving the incarceration of a former governor, the alleged involvement of White House operatives, a report on CBS’s "60 Minutes," and a disruption of service at Huntsville, Alabama television station WHNT-TV has prompted a call from FCC Commissioner Michael Copps for an investigation.

The controversial story involves the jailing of Don Siegelman (D) on bribery charges. The case is at the center of a blogosphere firestorm, with many linking it to the fired attorney scandal and alleging the quiet hand of Karl Rove in prosecuting Siegelman mainly for the crime of being a Democrat in a politically motivated case.

WHNT-TV went blank just as the "60 Minutes" segment began, prompting many to cry foul play, charging that the outage was on purpose. It probably didn’t help that the station first blamed CBS’s feed before claiming that the problem was on their end, then rerunning the segment during the Oscar telecast on another network. In reaction to complaints, it replayed the segment the following day.

One of the entities crying foul was the New York Times, which wrote an editorial on the topic. Ironically, NYT used to own the station prior to selling it with others to Local TV, backed by Oak Hill Capital Partners. Charges that Oak Hill exec Robert M. Bass was a political contributor to George W. Bush were refuted (he actually has given cash to Democrats).

WHNT said, "WHNT-TV station management apologized for the technical malfunction, and conducted an internal investigation to assure viewers that the timing was just an unfortunate coincidence."

RBR/TVBR observation: It would seem much more a coincidence if it had happened in, oh, we don’t know, say Massachusetts. One can’t blame people for subjecting this particular malfunction to a rigorous smell test. Whether you believe WHNT or not, it has a story and it’s sticking to it, and it’s hard to see how anybody could punch a hole in it at this point, and the system in this nation is innocent until proven guilty.

We would note that the lesson is out there. It would have been much easier for the station had the "60 Minutes" segment aired as scheduled. It serves as a cautionary tale for any station that is even thinking about monkeying around with somebody else’s news magazine.