The Rhode Island right is angry that Democratic politicians are joining the boycott of radio station WPRO until host John DePetro is gone from the station. DePetro is using the “free speech” argument which, of course, is bull. Free speech means you can call protestors at a Gina Raimondo fundraiser “whores.” It doesn’t absolve you from the consequences of your speech. I have the right to call anyone I see an “asshole.” I don’t have the right to not be kicked out of places and yelled at for doing so.
Justin Katz (in the first link above) uses the economic argument, that this is government intervening in the economy for personal reasons. He also sets up the idea that politicians (specifically Chafee in this instance) aren’t allowing their constituents to hear them.
Katz’s argument doesn’t hold up. Businesses can get hammered for the things they say or the things they support. If WPRO had a white supremacist or a communist host or someone who said things more repulsive than DePetro’s pronouncements, I doubt that Katz would be rushing to defend WPRO maintaining their business relationship with such a person. Even if they were a ratings bonanza. But because Katz’s views and DePetro’s are largely in line with one another, we’re being “pushe[d]… one step farther into the realm of Banana Republics and Lord of the Flies“.
Meanwhile, Marc Comtois posits on Twitter whether it’s more effective for politicians to boycott going on-air on WPRO or to go on and express their distaste and then sit through the interview.
Comtois has a way more interesting point. First, let’s talk about the politics of this. WPRO and its hosts tilt conservative. The constituencies that elect Democratic politicians tilt liberal. Therefore, there is very little for a Democratic politician to lose (politically) by refusing to going on-air on WPRO over misogynist comments made by WPRO’s most conservative host. Case in point, Gina Raimondo, whose fundraiser was the reason for the protest which led to DePetro making this remark, was one of the first politicians to join the boycott. Raimondo is one of DePetro’s favorite politicians (I suspect largely because DePetro hates unions, many unions dislike Raimondo, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend). Raimondo doesn’t appear see any problem with calling for the removal of possibly her biggest supporter in Rhode Island’s media landscape.
Notice I used the phrase “media landscape” there. That’s because WPRO is not the only radio station in town, much less the only media outlet in Rhode Island. If Rhode Islanders need to be informed as to what their politicians are doing, they can pick up a paper, turn on the T.V., check the Internet or turn the dial on their radio. It’s possible to cover virtually all of Rhode Island while missing one outlet (as disrespectful a practice as that might be).
The politicians may also have a bit of room here when dealing with WPRO. They’re not going on-air, but it’s unclear whether WPRO’s reporters will be able to get quotes. I’d bet they will. And they’ll still be able to attend news conferences and the like. But just because you have a media organization doesn’t mean you’re entitled to interviews from politicians (RI Future can attest to that).
The politicians also have a bit of leverage. It’s not as though WPRO is going to blackout coverage of the boycotting pols. After all, what Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras and Lincoln Chafee are doing is news that gets ratings. And for any blackout to be effective, it’d have to include other media organizations. Which means getting all those other news sources above to take a stand, and tacitly support the right to say misogynist things on air without consequence; while also losing the ability to gets views for their coverage of important political figures. Somehow, I don’t see this happening.
But finally, while denying WPRO’s talk-show hosts access to their lovely personalities is one thing, actually joining the boycott of the businesses that advertise on DePetro’s show is another. And it’s unlikely to me that we’ll see politicians doing that. There’s far more to lose by doing so.