On the surface, perhaps it appears to be a minor curiosity, but the story of WJAR’s stumbling and unprecedented revision of a completed episode of its flagship weekend news talk show, 10 News Conference with Gene Valicenti, may prove to be one of the most consequential stories of our moment.
In brief, while interviewing presumed House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D, Warwick), Valicenti asked a question that (if memory serves) he asked outgoing Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) after an earlier election. The new progressives are coming in with an agenda and a desire to fight the establishment, so how are you going to address that challenge? Trying to set context and draw out an answer — as he’s wont to do — Valicenti referred to some evidence of his assumptions, in this case, a photo of three newly elected progressive women on the steps of the State House, looking adversarial and with the caption (in Rep.-elect Tiara Mack’s words), “We don’t just want a seat at the table. We’re bringing the table back to where it belongs: with the people. This is our power. This is our house.”
Valicenti’s statement was not in the least outside the bounds of ordinary political discourse. He appropriately described Mack as “fierce-looking” in the photo and asked, “Is she coming up here to fight with you? … This is a young person who has her own ideas about things?”
But even this mild commentary (which is arguably complimentary, from the progressives’ perspective) was too much. A little bit of noise on social media, and WJAR pulled the episode from its website and skipped its airing for the weekend, planning (it appears) to recut it and re-release it.
Worse, the presentation of the controversy by both Donita Naylor, in The Providence Journal, and Dan McGowan, in The Boston Globe, is clearly in the spirit of the women’s grievance. Neither gives any sense that this sort of reaction from a major news outlet is at all unusual or maybe even objectionable. Naylor quotes Mack at length:
“Words mean things,” Mack said, “and there was a lot of negative connotation packed into his words. Progressive is not a bad word, and change in politics is positive. Ahead of us making this historic swearing in as three people recently elected, the attention around us should be overwhelmingly positive because of the historic merit” of winning their races.
Put aside all of the identity politics and self-aggrandizing rhetoric, and state what happened here factually: Three politicians — lawmakers who will have a direct hand imposing rules by which all of us will be required to live under force of law — objected that an established, trusted news anchor was not expressly and “overwhelmingly positive” about them, and the news station responded with groveling. Then journalists for two major newspapers reported on the incident more or less from the lawmakers’ perspective.
The bottom line lesson: Rhode Islanders should not trust the local news media to do anything to protect their civil rights, even to the extent of straightforward reportage that puts incidents’ in an objective context, as progressives gain power.
The first dangerous development, here, is that the identity groups and progressive ideology of powerful officials is making them immune to criticism, even as mild as an ambiguously provocative devil’s advocate question.
The second is that the rules aren’t even reliably defined. It’s a mind attack. It’s 1984 doublethink. If “fierce” sounds negative, commentators are not permitted to look at the image above and see fierceness. But if “fierce” sounds positive, then those same commentators are not permitted to see anything softer, which would be proclaimed as dismissive — if, for example, it had been Gene Valicenti, rather than Donita Naylor, who said the women were “posing like fashion models.”
Worse, either attack could be deployed based not even on what is said, but on who is saying it, with the consequence that a news anchor whom progressives have condemned as “conservative” is simply not permitted to speak of progressive government officials.
Fresh at the start of 2021, we can be sure that this message — this early symptom of metastasizing fascism — has been received by other journalists, as well as by other politicians, advocates, and public figures, who are forewarned about how the media will censor them. If the host of the show cannot say something so run-of-the-mill, surely nobody who opposes the progressives overtly will be permitted to risk the airing of a future episode by being permitted to speak, much less have the power to force revision of episodes in which they are mentioned (if they ever are mentioned again).
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?