Let me be clear about something: just like every other reasonable Rhode Islander, it matters very little to me what the state calls its seasonal decorations. That is not at all why RI Future has dedicated so much space to this issue.
We’re revisiting this topic so often because WPRO, one of the most influential forces in Rhode Island, has effectively declared a biased and manipulative media war on Gov. Chafee’s decision to ever-so-slightly separate the state from the church.
This is not about a war on Christmas, as Fox News and WPRO suggest, this is about a war on religious freedom.
It’s alright for WPRO to take a strong stand on this or any other issue. It’s not alright for the long-standing and well-respected radio station to allow its employees to lie over the public airwaves about it. In fact, it’s a violation of Cumulus Media’s published code of ethics.
It’s not alright for the self-anointed “station of record” to blatantly and deliberately ignore and stifle views that differ from their own. Indeed, its bad for ad revenue, too.
And it’s not alright when any actor in the local marketplace of ideas goes unchecked. In fact, it’s one of the worst things that can happen to public debate.
Calling a dead fir tree draped with knickknacks a holiday tree is in the best tradition of Rhode Island, a state proud to be founded on the idea that the government should be independent of organized religion. It’s also a more inclusive way to honor everyone during the holiday season.
Furthermore, Rep. Art Handy, a progressive Democrat from Cranston, made the point yesterday that the original notion of a holiday tree is something Christians initially borrowed from pagan solstice celebrations.
The Christian Science Monitor has no problem making such reasonable points in a great piece on the controversy. Rev. Barry Lynn, of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State tells The Monitor:
As a religious person, this idea that somehow anything that government does or what it calls a conifer – Christmas tree, holiday bush – that any of this has any effect on the integrity of the religious impact of Christmas for believers is just shocking, and really meaningless drivel in comparison to all kinds of other matters that do impinge on the sense of the season and the good spirit that may flow from it.
I pulled out that quote because it probably mirrors what the average Rhode Islander thinks about this story. But listen all you want, you’ll never hear these ideas taken seriously on WPRO. Not even during news reports. The closest News Director Bill Haberman could muster up this morning was to say, “we do strive to be different here in our little state.”
He said this just before declaring John DePetro, the meanest, loudest and most disingenuous actor in WPRO’s annual holiday hate spree, as being “Rhode Island through and through.”
The other talk show hosts don’t seem very interested in presenting another point of view either. I called in to discuss this yesterday with Dan Yorke and he kept me waiting through two segments during which he solicited additional callers and replayed audio of the governor. He took my call at 1:43. Some 10 minutes earlier I told his producer that I had a 1:45 appointment. Maybe it was a miscommunication, but maybe Yorke didn’t want to admit he didn’t want to take my call after I have been critical of his colleagues.
That’s why it’s a little useless to continue to put all the blame on John DePetro, though he is the easiest and most obvious target. At this point, blaming DePetro for inciting hate through lies and manipulation is a little bit like blaming a bull for making a mess of a China shop. There’s no reason to expect anything less.
However, as a former employee, a loyal listener and a Rhode Islander who wants to preserve the station’s position in our heritage, I do expect more from WPRO. More news consumers and advertisers should too. I can virtually promise that savvy Station Manager Barbara Haynes and her bosses at Cumulus will listen to us if we make a compelling argument.
Haynes knows well that Salty Brine rolls over in his grave every time DePetro opens his mouth.
Imagine what Salty would think of a WPRO personality using his influence to lead a flash mob at the State House interrupting signing children? You can watch video of DePetro doing this here. At that same State House rally last year, a co-worker said DePetro made an unwanted sexual advance that eventually led to her filing suit against him and WPRO. You can read about that here.
Even his coworkers are now publicly chastising him for his actions last year. Read this from a Ron St. Pierre blog post:
Note to the usual media opportunists who will once again seize the moment to get their pusses on the tube….this time how about you don’t drown out the innocent kids asked to provide the carols at the tree lighting ceremony. You can make your point…and get your mugs on TV….WITHOUT ruining their day.
Rhode Island would be well-served if more people stood up to DePetro’s war on religious freedom. WPRO would do a lot to boost its reputation, as well as its market share, if it led that charge.