Robert Benson is a frequent contributor to the Providence Journal op-ed pages. Almost every time he contributes, he writes about an anti-organized labor economic topic (see here, here, here, here and here among others).
Sometimes when he writes he thinks public sector unions should be banned, as he did here: “Is it any wonder that Rhode Islanders are fed up with these arrogant, selfish and economically ignorant union bosses? The response of these so-called union leaders to reasonable actions like pension reform is justification for banning government unions altogether.”
And other times, like this morning, he’s more reserved: “We don’t need to outlaw public sector unions, but our elected officials must be able to balance the union demands with the taxpayer’s ability to pay for these demands.”
Since Ed Achorn has taken the helm of the paper of record’s op/ed section, every time he writes, the Providence Journal makes a practice to point out that he is a member of Common Cause and Operation Clean Government, even though neither of these organizations take a stand on – or have anything to do with – economic policy and/or the labor movement, the subjects Benson takes on in his essays.
This fits an emerging pattern on the ProJo op/ed page of parsing anti-left rants as being more non-partisan than they actually are.
- When Ian Prior advocated for more Republicans in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation he was id’ed as a pr flack for the National Republican Congressional Committee rather than as someone who was paid by a local Republican to help him defeat an incumbent Democrat.
- And this one was a classic of misinformation: After legendary lefty Pete Seeger died the ProJo ran a column by Koch brothers-backed conservative stink tank writer and red-baiter Ronald Radosh, best-known for making conspiratorial connections between the New Deal and Soviet spies, as someone who has “written widely on folk music and politics.” In reality, Radosh is a former member of the communist party who dusts off the Stalin comparison he used on Pete Seeger near every time a famed lefty passes away. Here he is making the same claim about legendary Village Voice and The Nation columnist Alex Cockburn when he died in 2012!
But forget (if you can!) for a moment the Providence Journal’s new style of painting an overly rosy picture of those who target the left. I’m just as curious as to why Robert Benson (who sometimes goes by Al Benson, by the way) is allowed to spew misinformation – over and over again, mind you, as he makes this claim in more than one of his ProJo pieces – about Rhode Island having the most expensive fire fighters in the nation.
Here’s what he wrote this morning (emphasis mine): In fact, Rhode Island’s firefighting costs are the highest or second highest in the country, according to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (see “How R.I. Compares,” at http://www.ripec.org).
Here’s what the RIPEC report says (again emphasis mine): “Rhode Island’s fire safety expenditures of $5.06 per $1,000 in 2000 and $6. 50 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2011, ranked the state 2nd in the country and first in the region.” And, elsewhere in the report: “Per capita FY 2000 fire safety expenditures in Rhode Island of $153 were 80.6 percent higher than the national average and highest in the country. In FY 2011, Rhode Island’s per capita fire safety spending was $280, the second highest in the country and 104.6 percent higher than the national average of $137.”
So, as a point of fact, RIPEC does not rank Rhode Island as the “highest or second highest in the country.” It ranks Rhode Island as the “second highest in the country.”
But here’s the real kicker: even at that, the RIPEC report on how much it costs to employ a fire fighter in Rhode Island has long been debunked as a classic case of abusing statistics as a way to come up with an anti-labor slant. Way back in 2010, the notoriously anti-public sector blog Anchor Rising took issue with RIPEC’s findings about the cost of fire fighters in Rhode Island compared to other states:
Those who doubt these numbers seem to have these questions (cribbed directly from actual comments):
1) EMS services are included for Rhode Island but not the other states. By including EMS, you couldn’t even compare Providence to Worcester- two very similar sized cities, but Worcester’s EMS is provided by UMass Hospital, and Providence’s by the Fire Department.
2) The cost represents the total cost of fire protection in RI, meaning sprinkler systems, alarms and other additions, not just the actual fire department budgets.
3) Belief that pension costs are included in the RI costs but not in those for other states.
All the RIPEC report says about it’s methodology is:
Fire Protection comprises expenditures for the prevention, avoidance and suppression of fires and for the provision of ambulance, medical, rescue or auxiliary services when provided by fire protection agencies.To be clear, I’d like more particulars myself.
In short, the Providence Journal op/ed page is overstating/misrepresenting anti-fire fighter information that even Anchor Rising contributors have become skeptical of, four years ago.
Why? How often does this happen? Are their other errors that have gone unnoticed and uncorrected? Has this been an increasing pattern since the wildly anti-union Ed Achorn took over the editorial page control?
I don’t know but if I were John Marion, executive director of Common Cause RI, I might ask Robert Benson to not make such claims under the name “Common Cause.”