Three Case Studies in Terrible Reporting by the NY Times on the Siegelman Case
Today's blog is related to my book, "The Governor of Goat Hill." The following is the first of the three examples, with the other two coming soon. The entry starts with two quotes from the book.
This example is called:
"Oops, We Caught the Wrong Bass"
Robert M. Bass
(The Democrat Bass)
“In a stunning move of censorship, the transmission (of "60 Minutes" piece on the Siegelman prosecution) was blocked across the northern third of Alabama by CBS affiliate WHNT,” (Scott Horton) wrote (on Harper's web-site) that very night. On the same post he reported another scoop, and one the New York Times would live to regret. The program was hardly over and Horton .... reported that WHNT was owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners. “Oak Hill Partners represents interests of the Bass family, which contribute heavily to the Republican Party,” he wrote...(Horton) added with no basis in fact that WHNT was 'noteworthy for its hostility to Siegelman and support for his Republican adversary.'”
-- From, "The Governor of Goat Hill"
"The New York Times– which either took its news from Horton or shared the same nutty Alabama sources -- must have wished it had left the story alone. In its first story, the nation’s paper of record reported that WHNT was owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners, “which is managed by Robert M. Bass, one of a group of wealthy brothers who have all been major contributors to George W. Bush.” That was innuendo aplenty for smart readers to figure out that Republican big-dogs had sabotaged the Siegelman segment."
From, "The Governor of Goat Hill"
On Feb. 24, 2008, just as the "60 Minutes" Siegelman segment was about to air, a technical glitch knocked out the signal at WHNT, the CBS affiliate in Huntsville. For about the first 10 minutes, viewers saw black.
Scott Horton -- the Harper's writer/Siegelman backer/conspiracy peddler -- managed to post several items on Harper's web-site that very night, suggesting he was either in Huntsville (highly unlikely) or was getting fed info from Siegelman minions in Alabama. So good were these minions that Horton was able to report that very night a link between the super-rich Texas Bass brothers and ownership of the Huntsville station.
That the black-out was considered worthy of coverage in the New York Times reinforces the point I'm making with all this -- that the paper was long-gone, deep into Siegelman's thrall and story line, had, for all practical purposes, left reality behind. And there wasn't just one story -- there were two, and worse, a Horton-flavored, conspiracy-spinning editorial.
The editorial began by comparing the blackout to a sordid event from the Civil Rights Movement. The Times' declared that the blacked out “60 Minutes” report “presented new evidence that the charges against Mr. Siegelman may have been concocted by politically motivated Republican prosecutors -- and orchestrated by Karl Rove.
And a few paragraphs down, stated without comment but, as with the first news story, innuendo aplenty: “WHNT is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners, a private equity firm whose lead investor is one of the Bass brothers of Texas. The brothers are former business partners of George W. Bush and generous contributors to Republican causes.”
WHNT station manager Stan Pylant talked himself purple trying to explain the malfunction. In large part because of local interest – not just the Siegelman angle, but because Simpson is from the area – the station had heavily promoted the show and had nothing to gain and everything to lose by not showing it. And when the blackout occurred, station staff worked feverishly to get it back on. WHNT re-broadcast the Siegelman segment twice in the coming days. “The receiver failed at the worst possible time, and there’s nothing I can do to make some people believe it,” Pylant said.
The following, from, "The Governor of Goat Hill":
Now, the punch-line: The “Bass brother” who owns most of Oak Hill and thus WHNT is the liberal brother, Robert Bass, who’d long ago broken with his right-wing brothers. In the preceding 10 years, Robert Bass had donated more than $1 million to Democratic causes compared to $4,000 to Republicans.
When Bass read the fairytales in the New York Times linking him to a Republican conspiracy to prevent viewers from watching the Don Siegelman show, he got pissed off.
Bass’s home-town paper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, had some fun at the Times’ expense, reporting that the “press shy” Fort Worth billionaire “took exception recently to an article in The New York Times that inaccurately linked him to President Bush” through political donations .
“But as most North Texas political watchers know, Robert Bass split from his brothers, giving largely to Democrats. Now The Times knows it, too.”
Chastened, the Times published two corrections, one for the news story and a second for the editorial.
“For those keeping score, that’s Robert Bass 2, The New York Times 0,” chortled the Star-Telegram.
(WHNT sent the FCC its technical records and other documentation. The FCC hasn’t taken any action against WHNT, nor is any expected.)