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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What 60 Minutes Didn't Tell You

As strong as 60 Minutes Don Siegelman story was--and I suspect folks who had never heard of the former Alabama governor found it to be compelling television--it could only scratch the surface of a complex tale in roughly 14 minutes.

We've seen reports that more than 100 hours of material had to be left out of the story. Could CBS return to the Siegelman story? Sounds like the network certainly has plenty of ammunition if it decides to use it. (With modern video technology on the Web, 60 Minutes really needs to explore the idea of at least providing expanded Web casts.)

Based on the quality of its report on Sunday night, it's safe to assume that CBS has material that would break new ground in the case. It's not unusual for 60 Minutes to revisit stories and update them. The Siegelman case cries out for that kind of treatment--particularly because it is not just an "Alabama" story. This goes to the heart of wrongdoing in the Bush Department of Justice, which involves all Americans.

Just consider a few angles that 60 Minutes was not able to touch:

* The apparent electronic manipulation of votes in Baldwin County that gave Bob Riley the 2002 election over Siegelman.

* The myriad conflicts of interests involving U.S. Judge Mark Fuller and the possible criminal activity Fuller has been engaged in--as laid out in a scorching affidavit by Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks.

* The fact that key prosecution witness Lanny Young also provided damning testimony about Republicans Jeff Sessions and William Pryor, which federal investigators evidently ignored.

* The strong connections, driven home in recent days by Huffington Post, between Bob Riley and Jack Abramoff--and how money funneled through Abramoff helped Riley beat Siegelman.

* The stunningly weak memorandum opinion that Fuller issued as an "explanation" for denying bond pending Siegelman's appeal.

* The fact that, so far, no transcript exists in the Siegelman case, supposedly because the original court reporter died.

* The influence that Karl Rove has had on Alabama state courts, starting in the mid 1990s, and the untold damage he has done to the state's overall justice apparatus.

* The peculiar reporting methods of the Birmingham and Mobile newspapers in the case and their apparent close ties to prosecutors.

Alabama is essentially ground zero for corruption in the Bush DOJ. Our state is to justice-based terrorism what lower Manhattan is to Islamic terrorism. It's where a disturbing and profoundly important story had its genesis.

It's where the nation first learned about modern-day American political prisoners. (And there are others--at least three we know of, connected to the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. That case, too, would make a superb 60 Minutes story.)

CBS has done a splendid job of providing an overview of the Siegelman case and what it represents. Let's hope Scott Pelley and crew are allowed to finish the job.

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