Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alabama's Right-Wing Publishers Are Hitting the Exits

The job security of publishers at Alabama's right-wing metro newspapers seems to have gotten shaky.

First came news that Victor Hanson III is retiring as publisher of The Birmingham News. Hanson, 53, became publisher in 2001.

Now we learn that Howard Bronson has been forced out at the Mobile Press-Register. And Bronson isn't happy about it. He has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and its owners, claiming breach of contract and other wrongful acts when he was asked to retire.

What is behind these moves? Financial concerns almost certainly are part of it. The newspaper industry is struggling mightily as advertising revenue dwindles and readers turn to the Web for news and opinion.

Could something else be in play? The Press-Register and reporter Eddie Curran are credited with "breaking" the Siegelman story, leading to the governor's prosecution on federal corruption charges. The Birmingham News also played a major role throughout the Siegelman case and in coverage of the Alabama two-year colleges story, which has focused largely on Democrats serving in the state legislature.

Thanks largely to the reporting of Harper's Scott Horton, we now know that both newspapers enjoyed alarmingly cozy relationships with federal prosecutors during the George W. Bush era. Is it possible that someone is looking into the improper role Alabama newspapers might have played in helping to bring political prosecutions? Could that have contributed to the exit of newspaper publishers in Birmingham and Mobile?

If so, that would mean someone at the Obama Justice Department actually is awake and cares at least a little bit about rampant wrongdoing in the Bush DOJ. So far, we've seen little evidence that anyone on Team Obama has such an outlook. It's our guess that these exits are based mainly on financial difficulties in the newspaper industry, a situation that isn't likely to improve with the shuffling of publishers.

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