Corporate-controlled media spewing out garbage like this to the masses, that’s how.
Of course, such a breach of journalistic ethic comes via a Providence Journal editorial about legislation that would prevent cities and towns from reducing the number of daily firefighter shifts from four to three supported by some blatant falsehoods and – of course – some grandiose overstatements of the issues importance.
“Rhode Island has suffered for too long from high taxes, a miserably poor business climate and high unemployment,” is actually the lede of the editorial. “Those who have suffered the most are members of the middle class, who struggle to get by, and the poor, robbed of the means to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Spare me the feigned interest in the poor and middle class.
The issue emanates from a longstanding legal feud in North Kingstown. No one in North Kingstown – or anywhere for that matter – is in poverty or will be lifted out of it depending on how many firefighters work on a given day. Fire departments throughout Rhode Island are funded through property taxes. And by and large it’s the rich – not the poor – who pay property taxes. It may seem generous to suggest slashing taxes for the benefit of the poor, but in this instance in particular it isn’t a very efficient way to produce the stated benefit. In other words, it’s at best shoddy economic logic. At worst, it’s deception.
The reality is the assault on firefighters in Rhode Island is being largely led by affluent small government activists, like Barrington Republican Ken Block and ProJo editorial writer Ed Achorn. The two seem to have an unofficial playbook on how to whitewash propaganda.
Block, under the guise of analysis, gins up a report to make it seem like government needs to be smaller. In this case, he cherry-picked random cities around the country and compared their first response costs with Rhode Island’s. First responders say he failed to account for different structures and other anomalies when he did so. Never-the-less, enter Ed Achorn’s role in the scam. The ProJo op/ed page then passes off the fuzzy math as gospel. Thus, despite very fair critiques of Block’s work, the ProJo op/ed page reports it as, “As has been well documented, Rhode Island’s fire costs are dramatically higher than in other states.”
The misstatements get worse. Much worse.
“Some in the Assembly have argued that changing shift structures to run departments more efficiently is an attempt to get free labor out of firefighters or threaten their safety, or the public’s.”
Reality: nobody thinks this is a conspiracy to injure firefighters or the public. Many people, however, think this is a penny-wise and pound foolish way to lower taxes by overworking first responders, which can have life or death consequences. If this is what the writer meant, he or she did harm to this very valid point. I fear that this was not botched writing but rather malevolent writing, intended to misinform the public and belittle an opposing viewpoint. I highly doubt “some in the Assembly” suggested as much; it’s more likely the writer thought a fake argument could be pinned on fictional legislators – a grave abuse of journalism.
“At the very least, this matter cries out for further study and full public debate before the Assembly acts,” reads a line towards the end of the op/ed.
Like all important political issues, this one deserve more than just study and public debate. It deserves honest study and honest public debate, the kind Rhode Islanders aren’t getting from the Providence Journal op/ed page anymore.