BIRMINGHAM, AL: Richard Scrushy, the beleaguered former chairman of HealthSouth set to go on trial in August on corporate fraud charges, has launched his own TV show.
The half-hour paid program, Viewpoint, debuted at 7:30 am March 1 on WTTO 21, a Birmingham affiliate of The WB also known as WB 21. Scrushy and his wife, Leslie, are the hosts of the show.
The first show was heavy on media bashing and biblical references, according to Reuters. Scrushy compared the media to "old Satan sneaking in the back door." After quoting a Bible passage, his wife said, "We'll refute every tongue that accuses us."
Scrushy has pleaded not guilty to 85 criminal counts stemming from alleged accounting fraud at HealthSouth, which operates rehabilitation hospitals and surgical centers.
Scrushy told the WB 21 News that he would not discuss his case on the show.
Charlie Russell, president of C/A Russell Partners, a PR firm in Denver hired to consult with the Scrushy defense team, said the show stems from the HealthSouth founder's longtime interest in community affairs (he used to have a radio program). "Since his indictment, Richard Scrushy has been seriously constrained in his ability to participate in philanthropy and community affairs and issues," Russell said. "Every show will have a segment dealing with community affairs."
But Doug Jones, a Birmingham lawyer who represents shareholders in a civil suit against HealthSouth, feels that the show is a ploy to influence the jury pool, which will be selected from the viewing area's population.
"It's to ingratiate himself with the public...a public that's going to be called upon to sit in judgment of his criminal case," he said. "I am not necessarily criticizing him for doing it, but we need to call it like it is. To say it's a community service is baloney. It's a service to Mr. Scrushy."
At least one litigation PR specialist thought the move might be a bad one. Prosecutors can use anything relevant about his case that Scrushy says on the show, said James F. Haggerty, president of The PR Consulting Group in New York.
"It's hard to see how you could be so well scripted so as to not create something that can be used against you," Haggerty said. "That's the strangest litigation PR technique I'll hear of this year."