I’d finished an email exchange with Providence Journal reporter Philip Marcelo somewhat encouraged, on Friday night. He apparently had some questions about the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s RIVotes.org site; some legislators disputed that they’d missed as many votes as the site says.
On my way out the door to a social function, I didn’t exactly perform an extensive review, but I checked the House Journals for five randomly selected bills for which RIVotes says Rep. Robert Flaherty (D, Warwick), the most vote-missingest legislator, did not cast a vote. For one of the bills, he was absent; for the others, he was noted at the top of the journals as in attendance, but the roll calls did not have his name. That is, on all five, RIVotes was accurate.
I explained this to Marcelo, and he said the information was helpful. Not helpful enough, it appears, to include in the article, though, which has the headline “Legislators doubt accuracy of vote figures.” Even the lede appears as an attempt to diminish the usefulness of the site: “A new website, RIVotes.com, tracks number of votes missed.” The site does much more than that.
Instead, Marcelo allows “House and Senate spokesmen” to offer the following utterly irrelevant observation:
They noted that lawmaker votes –– as recorded by the Assembly’s electronic voting machines and posted online nearly instantaneously –– can be imprecise. The official vote record, they said, is found in the House and Senate Journals, which are posted online sometime after each day’s session.
“The electronic recording of votes captures the way voting buttons were pressed on the floor of the chambers, but for any number of reasons may not reflect the actual vote,” the spokesmen said in a statement. “Someone who was across the room may have asked to vote in the affirmative, for example, but not been able to press their button.”
The data entry staff that compiles votes and other information for RIVotes uses the General Assembly journals, not the instant electronic recording. The article, in other words, is misleading, perhaps intentionally so.
Granted, my opinion comes as an employee of an organization that the Providence Journal repeatedly strives to ignore, where it can’t be diminished. PolitiFact ignored my cooperative research in coming to its biased “Half True” ruling about the state’s health care mandates. The paper’s “Political Scene” column, when it refers to the Center at all, calls it a “GOP activist” organization, with no substantiation other than a few participants’ unsurprising political affiliation with one of the two major political parties.
And now the paper steers clear of fairness to cast a shadow over a completely non-partisan tool for voters that simplifies the process of investigating and tracking legislators’ voting records. It’s getting increasingly difficult to resist the conclusion that the Providence Journal is a major part of the reason that Rhode Island is in the horrible condition that it’s in.