Tuesday, February 26, 2008
On this day:

The Siegelman "Blackout"

There have been lots of Two Minute Hate sessions lately over an interruption that occurred Sunday evening during Huntsville CBS affiliate WHNT-19's broadcast of the 60 Minutes segment on Don Siegelman. The station has since apologized, explaining that "our station's CBS receiver that allows us to receive programming from the CBS network's feed failed." WHNT news director Denise Vickers explained further here.

The station has rebroadcast the Siegelman segment two times since it was originally scheduled to air on Sunday evening - once later that night and again during Monday's 6 o'clock news. It has also provided a link to the piece from its web page. Residents of North Alabama have now had more opportunities to view the broadcast than practically anyone else in the country.

Before the station had a chance to explain the situation or to make amends, several conspiracy-minded blog-heads took to their keyboards, throwing around terms like "censorship," "blackout," and "fascist" to describe WHNT, its staff, and its owners. Here's a small sampling of those responses:

Andrew Sullivan: "the program was simply blocked from being shown in northern Alabama."

Harper's Scott Horton: "In a stunning move of censorship, the transmission was blocked across the northern third of Alabama by CBS affiliate WHNT, which is owned by interests of the Bass Family." Even after the station apologized and issued a rather detailed explanation, Horton still smelled a conspiracy, as his subsequent posts indicate: see here ("Bridge in Brooklyn noticed for sale") and here ("The Great Tennessee Valley Blackout").

Huffington Post's Larisa Alexandrovna: "Tonight was something truly unseen in US history. During the 60 Minutes broadcast and ONLY during the Don Siegelman portion -- the screen went black for Huntsville residents and Mobile residents. There are other reports of other locations, but I have not yet confirmed those. ... In other words, in the United States of America, a man is imprisoned for being a Democrat. When reporters attempt to get this story out, they are threatened and smeared. When all else fails, the public is not allowed to see the news. This is not acceptable and I -- as a US citizen -- demand that Congress investigate this series of blackouts immediately. Any company involved in this must have their FCC license pulled too."

Mike Nizza of the New York Times: "Governments that try to keep a firm grip on information flow in their countries, like the Kremlin, have used 'technical problems' as an excuse to shut out unwelcome content on the Web and television. But could it have happened in the United States?"

Left in Alabama: "...it has been reported that the Siegelman segment only was blacked out in areas of Alabama that depend on channel 19 WHNT for the broadcast. This is scary and fascist."

Even scarier is that there are so many folks out there who are so lacking in common courtesy and self-discipline that they readily denounce their perceived oppressors as fascists, even when their own words prove that haven't the foggiest idea of what fascism actually is.

Such ill-tempered overreactions aren't limited to left-wingers, of course. We've all been guilty of it from time to time. Still, when we bloggers are sitting in front of our computer screens typing out our latest rant, it sometimes helps to stop and think for a moment before hitting that "Publish" button.