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Alabama TV station red-faced after blackout

Malfunctioning equipment blocked an Alabama TV station's broadcast of a report suggesting  imprisoned former Gov. Don Siegelman was the victim of a GOP  conspiracy, station officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Malfunctioning equipment blocked an Alabama TV station's broadcast of a "60 Minutes" report suggesting that imprisoned former Gov. Don Siegelman was the victim of a Republican conspiracy, station officials said.

After promoting the segment for days, WHNT-TV of Huntsville went black just as the report was to air Sunday night. The screen was dark for a few moments before the station flashed a message blaming a technical glitch for the problem.

WHNT general manager Stan Pylant said Monday that despite what some unhappy viewers said, the problem was caused by a malfunctioning receiver at the station.

"The receiver failed at the worst possible time, and there's nothing I can do to make some people believe it," he said.

The station aired the tail end of the roughly 13-minute segment after the signal was restored, and it showed the story again in its entirety during a newscast later Sunday and again Monday.

‘Highly unusual’
"That's highly unusual, but (CBS) realized the situation," Pylant said. The station also included a link to the "60 Minutes" report on its Web site.

Siegelman, a Democrat who was Alabama governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted on six bribery-related and one obstruction of justice charge in 2006. He began serving a sentence of more than seven years last June.

Federal prosecutors had accused Siegelman of naming HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman's 1999 campaign for a state lottery. Scrushy was also convicted and is serving a prison term.

The "60 Minutes" story suggested Republican politics was behind Siegelman's prosecution and imprisonment, a claim prosecutors deny.

Pylant said he received numerous calls from people on both sides -- some complaining that the report wasn't shown the first time, others complaining it was shown at all.

"We promoted the show all week for people to watch. For us to do that and then not air it would be crazy," he said.

Huntsville is in northern Alabama. "60 Minutes" aired normally on CBS stations in other parts of the state.

Democrats want inquiry
State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham said he will send a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for a formal inquiry to make sure there was no political pressure behind the blackout.

But "60 Minutes" spokesman Kevin Tedesco said he had no reason to doubt the station's explanation of what happened.

"This is a matter that WHNT is handling," he said.

Also Monday, attorneys for Siegelman called for a special prosecutor to look into the allegations in the "60 Minutes" report. The program said the government had a key prosecution witness, former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, repeatedly write out his testimony because prosecutors were frustrated with his recollection of events.

Vince Kilborn, an attorney for Siegelman who contends Republican politics was behind his prosecution, said the defense was never told of any written notes by Bailey. Lead prosecutor Louis Franklin said they never asked Bailey to write out his testimony.