Where the skies are so blue ...


George Zornick writes: We wrote recently about the story of Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama now serving a federal prison term after a suspect and potentially political prosecution.

The issue is coming to national attention these days, but the citizens of Alabama are having a tougher time getting the story on their former governor -- for example, 60 Minutes aired a piece on the matter which was mysteriously blacked out in Huntsville. Viewers there saw nothing but dead air during the show, coincidentally only during the nine minutes the Siegelman segment aired. Congress and at least one member of the FCC is calling for an investigation, since the station has, despite repeated different stories, failed to really explain the blackout.

Scott Horton at Harper's also notes that the major papers in Alabama have been doing a terrible job of covering the story -- at one point going as far as simply publishing the Hunstville television station's statement on the blackout, in full, on the news pages. Horton contends the coverage of most major dailies in Alabama "reflects a press that masquerades as independent and objective while it takes up a partisan sword in a particularly vicious style, slashing away at the roots of civil society." See his full coverage here. Studies show that, by a large margin, local outlets are the most popular choice for people to get news, regardless of age or income -- so monitoring the coverage of the Huntsville Times isn't as trivial as one might initially think.

Remember the federal shield law? It was the subject of much debate in the summer of 2005, when Judy Miller and Matt Cooper were facing slammer time for refusing to reveal information during the Plame scandal. After that imbroglio dissipated, so too did much of the discussion on such a law, which would offer journalists absolute protection against revealing their sources.

But the need for such a law remains: Toni Locy, a reporter for USA Today, could be fined $5,000 a day for refusing to reveal her sources in relation to her stories on the 2001 anthrax scare. She will start being fined $500 a day this week, and it will escalate until she reveals her sources -- or, perhaps, until she's bankrupt. The judge has made the unusual move of forbidding the reporter's employer -- or anyone else -- to pay the fines for her. Locy, now a journalism professor earning $75,000 a year, told The Wall Street Journal that "I can't pay it. The fines will just accrue. That's it. I don't have that kind of money."

Note, though, that the case was just cited in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, from Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Arlen Specter, heads of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- they want a federal shield law, passed by the House but currently stalled in the Senate, brought for a full vote.

McCain Suck-up Watch: John McCain's primary wins were in part thanks to significant support from moderates, something that puzzled many who saw McCain change to more conservative positions on issues like immigration and torture. Part of the problem, presumably, is that people just weren't paying attention -- but one would think that the professionals being paid to cover the candidate should be aware of his reversals. We see here that when it comes to immigration reform, some are not:

The Des Moines Register asserted that Sen. John McCain is a "supporter of comprehensive immigration reform" without noting that he now says he would not support his bill if it came up for a vote in the Senate, and that he has reversed himself on a key issue. Similarly, the Associated Press reported that "[t]he three leading candidates for president have somewhat similar views on illegal immigration reform," but did not note McCain's reversals.

And here:

The New York Times' Mark Leibovich asserted that the "conventional wisdom" that Sen. John McCain would be "done in by immigration in the Republican primaries" in 2008 "Proved to Be False." But Leibovich did not mention that McCain may have avoided being "done in" by the immigration issue by reversing his position to align himself with the Republican base.

If the reporters aren't paying attention to the record, what hope is there for John Q. Voter to be informed?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Not surprisingly the President vetoed the ban on waterboarding. He insists it is a crucial tool in the war on terror. Putting the President's reasons to the side, what he and those who agree with him are missing in the debate is that the ban on waterboarding isn't just about what we allow our interrogators to do, it is also what we now say is fair game to be done to our soldiers. I don't expect this President who has so carelessly sent our soldiers to war to care, but this piece of the argument has been drastically missing in the coverage of the issue. If we learned tomorrow that Iran had taken as prisoners a number of U.S. soldiers, and was using waterboarding to get answers out of them, how would we react as a country? How would this President react? Does anyone in the media have the ability to ask that question to the President or anyone else who supports the President's veto?

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Not that it surprises anyone, but Joe Klein misreads the reasons that Clinton won Texas and Ohio in his most recent piece in Time, pontificating about the "slow boil" of her female supporters upset about the media's treatment of her, highlighted by her appearance on Saturday Night Live, which resulted in female voters coming out in droves to vote for her. Unfortunately, the facts don't support anything of the sort, as pointed out by Kos, who notes that Clinton's percentage of women voters stayed the same in Texas and Ohio as her national averages, which Joe Klein calls a "staggering" increase in support.

Leave it to Joe Klein to never let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.

Name: Jeff Lichtman
Hometown: El Cerrito, CA

I understand Jesse Corum's frustration with the primary process, but I must speak out on behalf of my state. Until this year California's primary has been in June. The presidential nominations have usually been decided before then. It may be that Oregonians have had to "accept whatever candidate New Hampshire (and) New York" select for them, but it's not true in the case of California.

Name: Alex Swingle
Hometown: NYC

Hey Eric,

Saw Brian Evans' missive regarding Sirius, and ironically I have been good friends with the guy for over 20 years who programs those channels. He is more or less politically moderate, and was surprised when I forwarded him the letter and said he never intended for any right-wing bias. When I made him aware of the awful Right Brothers song, he told me he would take it off the playlist rotation.

On an unrelated note, I went to the ADL website and did a search on "John Hagee." To paraphrase Captain Renault, I was shocked, positively SHOCKED the McCain endorsement wasn't even an issue with them! I guess anti-Catholic bigotry is okay with them, and supporting Israel is fine no matter what your crazy reasons are. Once again Abe Foxman gives a free pass to the Christian Zionists.

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