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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Will Riley Story Have Legs?

A gritty small Alabama newspaper breaks a major story two days ago about the state's Republican governor possibly violating campaign-finance laws in 2002 and 2006.

A major Web news site, Raw Story, quickly picks up on the news broken by the Montgomery Independent and reporter Bob Gambacurta. A number of Alabama bloggers--Highway 431, Left in Alabama, Locust Fork News, Legal Schnauzer--soon follow suit. A nationally prominent blogger, Scott Horton of Harper's.org, picks up on the story and provides important analysis and context. So does another key national blogger, Larisa Alexandrovna, of at-Largely.

So where are Alabama's major daily newspapers in all of this? Missing in action, apparently. And that should be no surprise to those of us who have seen the concerted effort by The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register, Huntsville Times, and Montgomery Advertiser to ignore the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) scandal.

But why would these paragons of Alabama journalism be interested? After all, the nationwide DOJ scandal only has its roots in Alabama, courtesy of the partisan prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat.

And the latest story about current Governor Bob Riley (a Republican) and his apparent efforts to skirt campaign-finance laws? The Birmingham News hasn't touched it. If the other three papers have done anything, it isn't readily apparent from checking their Web sites.

How long will the state's major papers ignore the story? And if they do decide to tackle it, what approaches will they take to cover up any possible wrongdoing by the Riley crowd? Can't wait to see if ace "attack chihuahua" Brett Blackledge will jump on this for the News.

What does the Montgomery Independent's scoop mean? For one, it seems to grow from the dispute between Riley and Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff. A former Riley supporter, Goff has sued Riley and others for allegedly conspiring to ruin one of his companies. Riley appears to have retaliated by encouraging a criminal investigation of Goff.

Horton notes the close connections between Goff's account of his dealings with the Riley bunch and the account of Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, another former Riley backer.

And Horton notes the connections between this story and GOP efforts to remove Siegelman from office. But Horton goes even further:

"They were an effort to obliterate the state's democratic process. And they were pulled off with remarkable aplomb and considerable cover, courtesy of a mass market print media which failed miserably in its duty of critical inquiry."

Alexandrovna's account raises a number of interesting questions. She asks if other former Riley associates--John Giles, once head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, and attorney Hoyt Baugh--might decide to start singing some interesting songs. She also wonders if Riley's children--Rob and Minda--might also wind up being heavily involved in Plane-Gate.

Here is an excellent wrapup at Left in Alabama, with links to work by a number of bloggers.

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