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FCC Official Wants Probe of "60 Minutes" Blackout

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - March 6, 2008
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FCC Official Wants Probe of "60 Minutes" Blackout
By Peter Kaplan
Reuters

Washington - A U.S. Federal Communications Commission 
official is seeking an inquiry into the blacking out of 
a politically charged segment of the CBS News magazine 
"60 Minutes" by a local television station in Alabama. 

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said he had asked the 
chairman of the FCC to open an inquiry into the February 
24 incident at WHNT, a CBS affiliate in Huntsville, 
Alabama, in which civil rights footage from the 1960s 
was blacked out. 

"The FCC now needs to find out if something analogous is 
going on here," Copps said at a luncheon with media watch-
dog groups. "Was this an attempt to suppress information 
on the public airwaves, or was it really just a technical 
problem?" 

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Copps is one of two Democratic appointees on the five-
member FCC. The chairman of the agency, Kevin Martin, 
is a Republican. 

Martin responded by saying he would look into the matter 
but has not indicated yet whether he would issue a letter 
of inquiry to the station, a source close to the commission 
said. 

The "60 Minutes" segment centered on the prosecution of 
former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who was convicted in 
2006 on charges of corruption. 

The program made the case that Siegelman had been wrongly 
convicted on the basis of a politically motivated case 
built by Republican prosecutors and White House political 
advisor Karl Rove. 

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The blackout of the segment in Huntsville prompted an 
editorial in The New York Times the following week that 
raised comparisons between the WHNT incident and systematic 
efforts by a Mississippi TV station to suppress information 
about the civil rights movement during the 1960s. 

WHNT denied that the blackout was politically motivated. It 
said it had failed to get the segment on the air because of 
an equipment failure at the station that cut off the feed 
from CBS. WHNT said the problem was corrected a few minutes 
before the end of the Siegelman segment. 

In a posting on WHNT's Web site, the station's news 
director, Denise Vickers, said the station had been 
"bombarded" with complaints and accusations that the 
station had sabotaged the broadcast for political reasons. 

"But I assure everyone that the notion is patently false," 
Vickers wrote in her Web site posting. "Who would invite 
such a public relations nightmare on themselves??" 

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WHNT was sold along with eight other stations by The New 
York Times Co last year to the private equity firm Oak 
Hill Capital Partners. 

Station managers requested and received permission from 
CBS to re-air the segment twice in the following days, 
Vickers said. 

Copps said on Monday the FCC should move quickly to 
"determine the facts" surrounding the incident. 

"If the decision was intentional, who made the decision 
and why? The FCC needs to get to the bottom of this," 
Copps said. 

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Reporting by Peter Kaplan; editing by Stuart Grudgings.

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