James Baar: Study Ignores How Spin Erodes RI Credibility


A major flaw in the new Brookings “Rhode Island Innovates” Study is that it fails to address the deep erosion of the state’s credibility caused by spin-soaked communications. Accordingly, since the study does not recognize the problem, it does not offer a solution.

Among the Study’s numerous on-target discoveries of the obvious is its finding that Rhode Island is afflicted with “a crisis of confidence borne of passive leadership over several decades and several public that corruption scandals.” That, it says, makes “Rhode Islanders… a skeptical lot.” Also, it neglects to add, that is how it affects many successful business executives Rhode Island is trying to woo.  Nor does it mention that Rhode Island’s leadership has generated and continues to generate and strengthen much skepticism through a gusher of spinspeak that seeks to obscure reality by insisting on a fantasy world.

A current sampler:

  • Endless repetition of empty mantras such as “jobs, jobs, jobs” from the self-billed “jobs governor” purporting to assure that a stream of new businesses offering jobs should certainly be coming along soon.
  • Labeling controversial programs with adland brand names such as “RhodeWorks” for truck tolls and “Rebuild Rhode Island” for tax credits.
  • Much vague fogtalk regarding semi-secret efforts to attract out-of-state business to the I95 Commission land, which remains embarrassingly barren to daily public observation.
  • Ballyhooing advance leaks suggesting that General Electric, before it picked Boston, was really, really interested in moving its headquarters to Rhode Island.
  • Blaming cancellation of the tone deaf idea of a gubernatorial junket to the Davos World Economic Forum on a coming snowstorm instead of simply apologizing for the immediately opposed attempt to pay for the trip by dipping into University of Rhode Island Foundation education contribution money.
  • Governor Gina Raimondo’s congratulatory evaluation of her first year accomplishments in which she asks “Did we get it done?” and gives herself an “A.”

All of this is toxic to credibility. Rhode Island is a growing crisis communications case study. It cannot be cured by spinning an alternative universe.

But rather than recognizing that and proposing a major new strategic communications plan that would embrace reality, stop the spin, and restore and sustain credibility, the Brookings study buries on page 131 of its 198 pages a suggestion that “bold messaging” of any tax and regulatory reforms would be desirable.

The study also offers some triumphally encouraging spin of its own in its opening pages, reminding Rhode Island that it “has done it before:”

In the years prior to the American Revolution, Rhode Island business boomed with the highly profitable triangular slaves and rum trade, which the study calls the “imaginative carrying trade.” After the Revolution, Rhode Island boomed again, the study says, “launching a new age of industrialization” by applying “the newest technology from Britain.”  The study uses the verb “apply” as a synonym for the historically accurate verb “steal.”

“Rhode Islanders,” the study says, “innovated, transformed their economy, and prospered.” That is true. But it should have added that entrepreneurial Rhode Islanders did it with a minimum of spin.


James Baar is an author, international communications consultant, and resident of Providence.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    What seems to be missing in this report is any unique advantages Rhode Island might have to exploit, or what advantages might be created. I have often felt that a huge advantage was passed over with Quonset Point. Look what a renewed port has done for Charleston. How about some “Exploit the Bay” bumper stickers?

    Why not reinvigorate the “carrying trade”? When slaves became illegal, the Brown Brothers found the opium “triangle trade” (they preferred to call it the “China Trade”, wait until Brown U. figures that one out). I guess the idea of a port was floated about 15 years ago and Rhode Islanders weren’t having it. With a port, we would have “carriage of goods by sea”, rail and Route 95. Looks good to me.

    Perhaps governor Raimondo might consider visiting Charleston, rather than Davos. They are doing rather well with their IT sector as well as shipping.

  • GaryM

    I’m surprised you left out what the spin doctors did for RhodeMap RI – ex – people who chose to buy a single family home created a problem that now has to be fixed by planners.

  • treason?

    That Second Amendment really helped Ya’ll Qaeda fend off the federal government didn’t it?

    • Mike678

      Education and a knowledge of history may help you from making a fool of yourself yet again.

      Research why Mexico was reluctant, in WWI, to foment dissent/open a second front in the South at the urging of the German gov’t. Research why the Japaneses military argued against an attack on the West coast of the US. Hint: The number of armed citizens.

      Then research why our founders gave us the right to bear arms, a right upheld repeatedly by the Supreme CT. Then try thinking.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    WHAT BOSTON DID FOR GE, today’s Herald:

    Massive tax breaks that helped bring General Electric’s world headquarters to the Hub are being blasted by critics for creating too sweet a deal for the global conglomerate — but don’t expect a public movement like the one that derailed the Boston 2024 Olympic bid to sidetrack the relocation.

    In exchange for agreeing to move its global headquarters to the booming Seaport District, GE will get $145 million in grants and tax breaks from the city and state. But under the agreement, Boston will also pay up to $100 million to fix the dilapidated Northern Avenue Bridge, the state will pay 
$25 million to improve roads and sidewalks in the neighborhood, and city and state officials are 
exploring building a helipad.

    Boston has also committed up to $25 million in property tax breaks for GE

    • Rhett Hardwick

      When the “jobs issue” rises, politicians will be able to say they “brought jobs to Massachusetts”. Better to say they “bought jobs”

      With deals like this now on the table and commonplace, who can blame a developer asking Tiverton for a deal? “If you don’t ask, you con’t get”.