EDITORIAL: Poor Journalism Shames Member of the Military, Overblown Editorial Undermines Reform

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


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A Providence Journal news article published on Friday unveiled that five members of the House Finance Committee were absent from a meeting. The article was hard hitting and was the foundation for an unprecedented front page editorial that was published on Sunday, which claimed that the missing legislators "must have had something better to do with their time."

If anyone (like a reporter or an editorial writer) had taken the time to speak to the alleged “slackers,” they would have found out that one of the alleged is actually not on the committee and another was at mandatory military service for the United States Coast Guard.

Representative Carlos Tobon, who started his career as a page for U.S. Senator John H. Chafee, ran for office as an outsider and lost to long-time leadership legislator Bill San Bento on his first try in 2012 but won on his second go-around, serves in the United States Military as a Reserve Petty Officer in the United States Coast Guard.

The Projo had a responsibility to do a minimum level of fact checking prior to publishing and while the paper’s editorials are the ownership’s opinion, the editorial should probably be based in some level of fact. The public shaming of a member of the U.S. Military is embarrassing and deserves an apology.

Who do we want to serve

Tobon is the type of candidate one wants to run. He ran not once but twice, taking out the “old school” San Bento -- and in addition to his public service as an elected official, he serves his country in the Coast Guard. The article shaming him and others seemed to be a stretch and the front page editorial was a massive overreach.

The Providence Journal's circulation has continued to collapse, dropping from a weekday average in 2006 of 159,788 (according to A.H. Belo’s Annual Report) to a Monday-to-Friday average of 59,000 (according to WPRI’s Ted Nesi) — a 63% decrease. The drop in Sunday circulation is even more profound over that time — 212,971 to just 78,000.

This type of sensationalized public shamming will not motivate many to sign up for an annual standard rate subscription of $551.20. 

If a kid from Pawtucket who grew up at the Boys & Girl Club, paged for Chafee, beat a non-reformer, and serves in the military doesn’t deserve a phone call to check the facts before a front page editorial, then who does?

All media makes errors, heaven knows GoLocal has made its share, but if you are going to make a charge of this magnitude -- that he was a slacker with something "better to do with his time" -- then you better get it right. And, if you got it wrong, then write an apology to Representative Tobon. His service deserves it.

Note: In an unrelated article, three days after the first article and a day after the front page editorial, the Projo acknowledged that Tabon was serving at a Coast Guard obligation. Neither the initial article nor the editorial have been corrected or updated.  A previous version had that Tobon beat San Bento, which Tobon lost by 1 vote.  Tobon won in 2014 on his second attempt at the office. 

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