Technical glitch derails exposé

Alabama viewers miss '60 Minutes' piece on scandal

An Alabama TV station's technical troubles during a "60 Minutes" piece about the state's former governor caused ripples of controversy by some who wondered whether the outage was politically motivated.

A Scott Pelley report about Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman that led "60 Minutes" wasn't seen by viewers in northern Alabama served by WHNT-TV, a CBS affiliate in Huntsville, Ala. The station, which initially blamed CBS, said Monday that instead there was a problem with its satellite receiver that was supposed to take the network feed.

But the outage raised eyebrows in Alabama and elsewhere, with some blogs saying that it was a deliberate attempt to keep the segment off the air. Pelley's piece focused on Seigelman's conviction for corruption, which many question, and included an interview with a Republican operative who said that former Bush adviser Karl Rove asked her to take compromising pictures of Siegelman.

The station's technical troubles began at 6 p.m. CST, when "60 Minutes" and the segment began, and lasted for 12 minutes. Pelley's piece ran 13 minutes and began at about 6:05 p.m. local time, meaning that a large portion of the segment wasn't shown when it aired.

But WHNT, a former New York Times station now owned by Local TV/Oak Hill Partners, moved fast to make it clear that the blackout was nothing more than technical trouble. It aired the piece in its 10 p.m. newscast Sunday, received permission from the network to air it in full in its 6 p.m. newscast Monday and offered a link to the full story online.

"We regret that this happened at a very inopportune time," the station said in a statement posted on its Web site. "Please accept our apology and please know that it was not intentional."

WHNT couldn't be reached for comment.

CBS seemed satisfied that there was no hanky-panky involved at the Huntsville station. Another CBS affiliate in Alabama, WAKA-TV in Montgomery, Ala., didn't report any problems. Nor has CBS heard of any other stations with problems during the broadcast.

An executive at WAKA defended WHNT. WAKA GM Jim Caruthers said that technical glitches happen.

"The odds of a technical problem within the station is much more probable than somebody trying to tinker with a CBS feed," Caruthers said Monday. He said he didn't think that the WHNT blackout had anything to do with Alabama politics or any other issue.

"In my opinion, there was nothing nefarious about it at all," Caruthers said.