NORTH KINGSTOWN (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is freezing out talk radio shows from his new administration, saying he and state workers who report to him will no longer appear on them because they're profit-driven enterprises that are more entertainment than news and a diversion from state business.
News of Chafee's policy began spreading last week, but it wasn't until this week, after the assassination attempt on Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and public criticism about a divisive atmosphere that some say is fostered on radio talk shows, that his office publicized his stance.
Chafee, a former Republican-turned-independent, told The Associated Press Tuesday his decision had nothing to do with Giffords' shooting.
When asked about the shooting Monday, however, Chafee criticized what he called “ratings-driven media outlets” that encourage a vitriolic atmosphere.
He said Tuesday that divisiveness did contribute to a minor extent to his decision, but politics had nothing to do with it.
In contrast to his predecessor, Republican Don Carcieri, who made talk radio his media venue of choice, Chafee has had an unhappy relationship with talk radio shows. Several hosts have harshly criticized him for various stances, such as rescinding an executive order cracking down on illegal immigrants, and his proposal to institute a 1 percent sales tax on some items. During last year's campaign, he refused to go on a WPRO-AM show hosted by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci because Cianci is a convicted felon.
Chafee said there's a difference between other for-profit media such as newspapers and TV, and radio talk shows.
“Maybe this is my opinion. It's more entertainment than it is news,” he told the AP. “Ninety percent of the comments are negative toward all politicians. That's just the game, and that's what sells.”
Chafee said he will still speak with the stations' news reporters and will take questions from talk show hosts who come to his news conferences or other public appearances.
He said the ban on talk shows wasn't “ironclad,” and the administration would make exceptions on occasion when warranted, such as in a public emergency.
Bill George, news and program director of WHJJ-AM in Providence, said Chafee's office hasn't given him the details about the policy and he plans to speak further with the administration about it.
“Obviously, we think it would be a good idea for the governor to appear on talk radio as a way to speak directly with a large and active audience of Rhode Islanders,” he said, adding that he plans to extend an open invitation to Chafee to come on the station.
Paul Giammarco, program director for WPRO, based in East Providence, did not comment on the decision.
Chafee on Tuesday called himself old-fashioned, saying he remembered a time when governors didn't go on talk radio. Carcieri preferred talk radio to newspapers and other media during the final part of his eight years in office, and his department heads could often be heard during radio talk shows giving lengthy interviews.
Carcieri's predecessor, Republican Lincoln Almond, said after a few months in office, he instituted the same policy for himself, and said he couldn't recall department heads spending much time on the medium. He told the AP Tuesday that it was time-consuming to do the shows, and he thought they were a waste of time.
“Once you go on one show, you've got four to five to do. I would rather have spent the time in the office,” he said. “I think it was much more valuable.”