TGIF: 12 Things to Know About RI Politics + Media

Aug 16, 2013

Welcome back to my Friday column. As always you can reach me at idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org. Let's get started.

1. Almost four decades after the school desegregation crisis of the mid-'70s, questions of race, class and equity still linger near the surface of American life. J. Anthony Lukas offered a gripping examination of these issues in his book Common Ground, which viewed the crisis through the eyes of three different families, one Yankee, one working class Irish, and one working class black. For aficionados of politics and media, the book is studded with fascinating bits (John F. Kennedy had "halting, awkward" moments during his first run for Congress, in 1946; the Boston Herald, not the Globe, was the preferred paper of the suburbs in the 1950s). Lukas, sadly, took his own life in 1997. Yet Common Ground remains a tremendous, insightful read for anyone concerned with the problems of cities and civic life.

2. RI's Gang of 500 was fascinated when word broke earlier this year that J.B. Poersch was going to work as an adviser for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. The thinking was that Poersch, a longtime former chief of staff for Jack Reed, wouldn't do this without a blessing from Reed. Yet during a taping Friday of WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers, Reed says neither Poersch nor Taveras spoke with him in advance of Poersch's move. On a related note, although Reed has on rare occasions lent his support in Democratic primaries, he strongly suggested -- not surprisingly -- that he'll avoid endorsing from among the three expected gubernatorial candidates in next's year Democratic primary: Taveras, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, and Governor Lincoln Chafee.

3. The ownership of the New York Times says the paper isn't for sale, even though its market capitalization is dwarfed by such entities as Amazon ($135 billion), Facebook ($93 billion) and WSJ-owner News Corp ($9 billion). If the NYT remains family-owned into the future, the scepter could land one day in the grasp of Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, part of a new internal digital team at the NYT, who spent some time not so long ago reporting for the ProJo.

4. The Providence Journal's departing investigative reporter, Mike Stanton, has observed the bad and the beautiful of Rhode Island government for almost 30 years. So during our exit interview, i was curious -- does he see steps that could make RI government better and reduce corruption, or is more a matter of people getting what they vote for? Stanton's response: "That's a very good question, because I think that so many times people focus so much on the process and the institutions and the apparatus. And that really misses the human quotient in the whole thing. Two of the things that I always remember that motivate Rhode Island politics: Roger Begin, the former lieutenant governor, once said to me, 'You know, people always talk about good government and what not, but the only time you ever hear from constituents is when they want something from you'; so that's number one. And then John Lynch, the legendary criminal-defense lawyer who defended Ed DiPrete and a host of other people .... he once said to me, he was talking about the relationships that govern Rhode Island -- he said, you have to understand that people here grew up, they sat in the same pew together at church, and so those relationships, they can go deeper and transcend party boundaries, and that's what really makes this place tick."

5. Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, who won election last year as the first Latino mayor in his predominantly Latino city, is set to announce his re-election campaign Saturday, 1-3 pm, at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Claremont Street.  

6. Jason Schwartz of Boston Magazine wrote the authoritative account of what went wrong with Rhode Island's dubious investment in 38 Studios. So it's worth nothing his take on a recent Boston Globe story about how former Red Sox star Curt Schilling is faring. Excerpt: "Can we please do away with the fiction that 38 Studios failed because Lincoln Chafee didn’t do enough to save it at the end? It is simply not true. This is not a matter of he said, she said. It’s a matter of what actually happened. We’ve covered this at length before, but, in many ways, 38 Studios was doomed from the start. Its business model was incredibly risky and ambitious, and likely well outside the scope of what any first-time video game executive—let alone Schilling, who had never even worked in an office—would have been capable of. From day one, Schilling admitted to me, the company was chasing investment money. Nobody, save the state of Rhode Island, would give the studio any. And let’s be clear: as recent litigation has shed additional light on, Rhode Island’s decision to lure 38 Studios to Providence with $75 million in guaranteed loans was positively moronic. As far as I can tell, most people do more due diligence when they’re buying a new TV than Rhode Island did on 38 Studios."

7. The US drone program gets detailed attention in a new Atlantic story by Mark Bowden. While drones have proven effective in taking out Islamic militants and reducing exposure for US forces, it's not without considerable stress for those operating the joystick, Bowden writes. US drones have also killed civilians while stirring anti-US resentment in Pakistan and elsewhere. During his appearance on Newsmakers, Jack Reed called the drone program more of a positive than a negative, albeit one that requires careful monitoring.

8. Ross Douthat, op-ed contributor for the New York Times, thinks Politico, the It Girl of DC media, has to take a fall for the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post to prosper. Regardless of whether you agree, Douthat's piece is well-worth the read; particularly intriguing is the link to a 2006 column by the great Jack Shafer about the birth of the yet-to-be-named Politico and what it meant.

9. Jack Germond, who died this week, at age 85, was a Bigfoot of an earlier era of political reporting, a time when reporters had far greater access to candidates for national office. The irony is that now, in a time when a world of information is a few clicks away, political hopefuls are kept farther and more distanced from the media.  

10. Brother, can you spare 10 cents for the new Sakonnet toll? Steven Frias, who knows his history, says the toll is a symptom of a runaway state government. Yet Aaron Renn, writing back in July, calls tolling an appropriate response for the user-fees needed to keep up infrastructure.

11. Mark Leibovich, now an ace reporter for the New York Times, started out as an assistant to my former boss at the Phoenix newspapers, Peter Kadzis. Peter is a polymath and tremendous writer, so don't miss his review in this week's Providence Phoenix of Leibovich's revealing look at the insider culture of Washington, DC.

12. Speaking of the Phoenix, a hat tip to the wide-ranging Phil Eil for pointing out this documentary on iconic Providence horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, in advance of the big local NecronomiCon event celebrating Lovecraft from August 22-25.