Power Line: Dissecting the 60 Minutes Scandal

Thanks to Power Line for clearing up this weird Karl Rove/Don Siegelman/60 Minutes controversy we’ve been hearing so much about here in Alabama. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, you’re basically in the same boat with me. But here’s Power Line’s gist of the thing:

We’ve written a couple of times about the 60 Minutes story last Sunday that claimed former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was the victim of a Republican conspiracy that sent him to prison for bribery and mail fraud. The story implicitly accused the career prosecutors who handled the case of complicity in the alleged conspiracy, but the real focus of CBS’s account was Karl Rove. The network’s star witness was a small-time Alabama lawyer named Jill Simpson, who claimed she was a life-long Republican, but had stepped forward to tell what she knew about events in 2001 and 2002.

The centerpiece of Simpson’s account, as presented on 60 Minutes, was her claim that she did “opposition research” for the Republican Party in Alabama at the request of Karl Rove. She said that in 2001, while Siegelman was still governor, Rove asked her to follow Siegelman around and try to get photos of the Governor in bed (“in a compromising sexual position”) with one of his female aides. Not only that: Simpson said that this request by Rove didn’t surprise her, because Rove had asked her to carry out other secret missions in the past.

…[Right around here is where my ears start to bleed, so it’s hard to keep track of the details; see Power Line for all that. But here’s the upshot. – j]…

At a minimum, 60 Minutes certainly owed it to its audience to ask Simpson, on camera, why her alleged memory of a passing reference to “Karl” in a phone conversation more than five years ago has suddenly morphed into the claim that she had such a close relationship with Rove, one of the most senior officers of the Executive Branch, that he would ask her to spy on the Governor of Alabama–a claim for which, CBS might have noted, she offers zero evidence.

This is not the only respect in which CBS’s presentation of Simpson’s story was less than honest. In fact, what Simpson has alleged is a “conspiracy so vast” as to be self-refuting. CBS failed to disclose the extent of Simpson’s wild claims so as to conceal from its viewers the fact that Simpson is, to put it bluntly, a nut.

Jill Simpson is a sad case, but she’s not the only one. The world is full of mildly deranged people who are convinced that they alone have stumbled onto the great conspiracy of their time, or that they themselves have played a key role in events, unaccountably unacknowledged by anyone else. There once was a time when journalists tried, at least, to avoid being led down blind alleys by such sad cases.

What is surprising is not that Jill Simpson exists, but that CBS chose to put her forward on 60 Minutes as a credible witness, without disclosing the many facts that would have enabled the network’s viewers to draw their own conclusions about Simpson’s story. It seems fair to wonder whether, at some level, the people who run CBS and 60 Minutes are as deranged as Jill Simpson when it comes to Karl Rove and the Republican Party.

So what we have here is the journalistic equivalent of being accosted by a bag lady in the Walgreen’s parking lot, and 60 Minutes touts it as evidence of some heinous Republican conspiracy. Power Line did a great debunking job, but here are some even more basic questions that somebody should address:

— Why in the world would the chief political advisor to the President of the United States care so much about the governorship of Alabama (Alabama!) that he would bother with cooking up a conspiracy to win it? Is Alabama really a crucial pivot point in the vast right-wing axis? “If we lose Alabama then the whole thing is shot to hell! Somebody get me Jill Simpson!”

— Though many people have made many claims about this “conspiracy,” no one — no one, mind you — has claimed that Siegelman is innocent of the crimes for which he is imprisoned. Isn’t that kind of significant? If government officials engage in a “conspiracy” to convict someone of a crime that he actually committed, isn’t that also called “doing your job?”

— Is the whole point of this to say that politicians from one party will work extra hard to convict corrupt politicians from an opposing party? Well, golly, you could knock me over with a feather. That’s well worth 60 Minutes’ time.

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