You might think the last thing Alabama needs is another publication that applies a rightward slant to its political coverage. But that's what we appear to have received with the arrival of Thicket, a new glossy magazine that debuted in January 2008.
Who is the cover boy for Thicket's debut issue? Why, none other than Republican Governor Bob Riley, resplendent in suit and cowboy boots.
(Schnauzer Life Lesson No. 1: Never trust a man who wears cowboy boots with suits. It just screams out, "I'm insecure about something--my masculinity perhaps.")
Actually, Thicket appears to have a lot of potential. It looks sharp, with first-rate photography and design. It is produced by Thicket media, and it appears that somebody on board knows a thing or two about putting out a good-looking magazine. I like the magazine's motto: "Alabama Redefined."
But the debut cover story, written by Atticus Rominger, hardly lives up to that high-minded mission. It's just more of the unquestioning right-wing pap that we already get from The Birmingham News and its Newhouse cousins in Huntsville and Mobile.
One of the things that makes the story so disappointing is that it comes with a compelling headline on the cover: "What is this man's agenda? Getting inside the governor's head."
Hey, that sounds pretty intriguing. If Rominger managed to get inside Riley's head, he evidently found nothing there but empty space.
Actually the space is not totally empty. Rominger presents Riley as pretty much a one-trick pony: A man obsessed in his second term with cleaning up what he considers to be a mess in the Alabama two-year college system. Riley seems particularly concerned about people who work in the two-year system and also serve as members of the Alabama Legislature.
"Double dipping is a moral issue as far as I'm concerned," Riley says. "When you appropriate tax payer money to certain entities that in turn pay your salary, there is a conflict of interest."
To Rominger's credit, he points out that some observers, particularly Paul Hubbert of the Alabama Education Association, view Riley's efforts as political gamesmanship. Noting that the governor's proposals target mostly Democrats, Hubbert calls it an "if you can't beat them, ban them" approach.
Rominger also quotes Birmingham News reporter Brett Blackledge, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the two-year system. "[Riley] has advocated for this before there was great public interest," Blackledge says. "There is a great public interest (now), so why not strike?" You can almost hear Brett breaking out his cheerleading outfit.
Rominger touches on some interesting stuff, but in the end, he portrays Riley as having an "aw-shucks earnestness." Even in private, Rominger writes, "Riley is not ruffled by issues of pure politics."
Bob Riley isn't interested in pure politics? I would invite Rominger to read Scott Horton's No Comment blog at Harper's.org. Or better yet, give Horton a call and interview him about the political realities in Bob Riley's Alabama.
Or how about calling Montgomery insurance executive John W. Goff, who filed a lawsuit against Riley and others for allegedly ruining one of Goff's companies and wound up the subject of a federal investigation as a result? Ask Mr. Goff if Bob Riley plays political games.
And Rominger makes no mention of some of the unsavory characters--Michael Scanlon, Dan Gans, Jack Abramoff--who have strong ties to Bob Riley. No mention of Mississippi Choctaw gaming money that fueled Riley's campaign or the funny numbers that appeared to be electronically manipulated in Baldwin County, giving Riley a victory over Don Siegelman in the 2002 governor's race. No mention of no-bid state contracts that appear to go to Riley friends and family members.
The big question is this: Does Bob Riley have the moral standing to be telling anyone about ethical government? Rominger never seems to ask that question in a serious way.
If Thicket magazine truly wants to "redefine Alabama," and wants to make a valuable contribution to Alabama journalism, those are the kinds of questions it needs to be asking.