There is no meaningful distinction between WPRO news and talk

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 1.15.53 PMWPRO’s Tara Granahan called me at 5:45pm Monday night to ask me if I would come on and do an interview with her about the May 1st Day of Reason proclamation Governor Chafee was kind enough to sign on behalf of the Humanists of Rhode Island and the Secular Coalition of Rhode Island. I asked her if this was for the “talk side” of WPRO or for the “news side.”

Granahan told me that she was covering for Matt Allen’s talk show and that she would like to have me on to discuss the proclamation, but she also knew where I was going with my question. She knows that as long as John DePetro is employed at WPRO, I will be honoring the “For Our Daughters” campaign and not appearing on any WPRO talk radio programs.

DePetro 1129amFor those of you who don’t know, For Our Daughters was formed in the wake of comments made by John DePetro last year in which he called women union protesters “whores.” DePetro was suspended for a while, but the station ultimately brought him back on the air, where he remains to this day. For Our Daughters has asked people who support women to avoid going on any WPRO Talk shows until DePetro is removed from the station.

DePetro 0401pmHowever, in deference to the news gathering side of WPRO, where decent work is done covering local news, the For Our Daughters campaign thinks it would be okay to appear on WPRO if the appearance isn’t on one of the talk radio programs. Granahan said that if I wouldn’t appear on the talk show, she would set me up with someone from the news side. I told her I would call her back.

DePetro 0400pmThere’s a commonly repeated piece of advice that says that if you have a chance to spread your message, you should take it, even if that means appearing on a hostile news show. There is, it is believed, no bad publicity, as long as you keep your cool and behave reasonably. I followed this advice for a long time, appearing on the John DePetro Show three times and the Helen Glover Show once. All four experiences were emotionally draining. In studio, the hosts are usually gracious enough, and they sometimes give you that wink and a nod during the show to let you know that the whole experience is little more than theater and that in reality, it’s all about putting on a good show, not about exploring the issues.

DePetro 0425pmIn person, radio show shock jocks like DePetro want to give the impression that they are better than the audience they are catering to. The big secret is that it’s all a big game, a way to make money and news radio hosts don’t really believe that what they are doing is worth anything, or that any of the issues they drone on about are truly important. It’s all about raising the emotional blood pressure of the audience, and selling commercials.
DePetro 0627pmI first met Tara Granahan during the Cranston prayer banner kerfuffle my niece, Jessica Ahlquist, was involved in. Granahan asked me if I would do a quick interview. I told her that I didn’t like the way her station treated my family, and she quickly went into her standard line about how the news side and the talk side of WPRO were separate, and that she would treat me fairly. As it turns out, she didn’t treat me fairly, in my opinion. Going on her morning news program once or twice on different issues over the following years didn’t endear her to me either. She asked leading questions, and she seemed more interested in getting me flustered so that I would say something stupid than really asking for my views.
DePetro 0737pmMaybe I’m slow, but one day I realized what was really going on: The news side supplies audio clips of interviews to the talk side for use during their shows. I can decide to only speak to the WPRO news reporters, but there’s nothing stopping John DePetro, Buddy Cianci or Matt Allen from taking clips from the interview and using it on their program. People can make the talk side/news side distinction all they want, and it certainly saves the news side people some embarrassment to make the distinction, but in truth there is no distinction at all. You can’t appear on WPRO without the possibility of John DePetro using your words against you in some unsavory and misleading way.
DePetro 0753pmJohn DePetro doesn’t seem to like me very much. On his website he flatly states his bigotry towards atheists, and whenever he needs to incite his audience, he mentions my family’s name in some insulting and demeaning way. I stopped doing his show long before DePetro made the offensive, misogynist comments that should have gotten him fired. I stopped going on his show because I found him to be a two-faced jackass. Not only did he speak differently about me when I was in the studio than when I was out of the studio, DePetro has a habit of talking behind people’s back, telling embarrassing stories about fans of his show and regular guests. For instance, he told me a terrible story about Kara Russo Young that I would never repeat, because it was so offensive and besides the point.
DePetro 0755pmI’ve seldom met anyone who projected as little character as John DePetro. I feel a little bad for him, because he’s more driven than talented, and I fear he’ll never get as far in his career as he thinks his talent should take him. He’s destined for a life of disappointment.
DePetro 0957pmSo I called Tara Granahan back, and told her that as far as I’m concerned, WPRO is not worth appearing on. This is a shame, because there are some good people working there. I see WPRO reporters like Steve Klamkin out on news stories and doing good work. But WPRO is a moral cesspool, and appearing on the same station that continues to employ John DePetro is not something I can do. Even as I was telling Granahan my reasons for not appearing on her show, John DePetro was “Twitter trolling” me with bigoted, hateful and insulting comments (which I’ve run here).

I didn’t engage with DePetro on Twitter. I don’t care about DePetro. This post is about him only as an explanation for why I won’t appear on WPRO.

The idea that one should go on any show and access any media that will have you is flawed. We can pick and choose who we deal with, and it does not hurt our causes to avoid appearing on a station that supports misogynist bigots. Further, the distinction between WPRO’s news side and talk side is illusory. WPRO should invite people on with a Miranda warning attached: “Any appearance on WPRO News can and will be used against you by WPRO Talk.”

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Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu

"There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

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