By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

R.I. governor bans state employees from talk radio

In case you missed it, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has banned state employees from appearing on commercial talk radio (public radio is OK). He’s already had to modify his stance: the ban is apparently inoperative if there’s an emergency.

In a puckish response, a Republican politico, John Loughlin, has decided to boycott Rhode Island’s public radio station, WRNI, although Loughlin hastens to add it’s “nothing personal.”

Back when he was a U.S. senator, Chafee always struck me as clueless but harmless. He’s still clueless.

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7 Comments

  1. Aaron Read

    Props to my pubradio colleagues at WRNI! 🙂

    BTW, it’s worth noting that Chafee’s predecessor, Carcieri, apparently liked appearing on commercial talk radio and did so regularly. That makes this ban seem slightly less clueless in the sense that he’s distinguishing himself from his predecessor.

    A question for the constitutional scholars: how can an agent of the government ban the employees from speaking on the radio? Does the first amendment not apply because the government employees are, themselves, part of the government and thus it’s okay for the government to censor itself?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: The fact that they’re all government employees is a slightly complicating factor, but I doubt there’s anything constitutionally dubious about Chafee’s idiotic action.

  2. Stephen Stein

    I agree, this is nonsense.

    Private companies have banned their employees from talk radio appearances (I’m thinking the Globe and WEEI). Can Governors? Or heads of public agencies? It sounds dubious to me, but certainly it’s a wrong-headed notion.

  3. C.E. Stead

    My understanding was that he was banning employees from being on talk radio WHILE AT WORK. Which is entirely sensible. People should be working at work, not holding on Line 3.

    When I worked for the state, it was suggested to my by the Ethics Board that I refrain from writing/speaking about the agency I worked for, so I would not be considered to be acting as a ‘spokesman’. I did so, and never found it confininn, and sometimes it was helpful. Example – I worked at Mass. Highway and didn’t write about roads. About three weeks after I began writing my column, the Big Dig tunnel collapsed and I was eating lunch with some of the engineers who were doing the subsequent inspections. Since I am not an engineer and my job had nothing to do with that, it would have been easy for me to misconstrue something I heard in conversation – but I had told the editors before I started writing that I would not be a source for any roadway information, and they had agreed, so temptation was put aside.

    Likewise, state employees in general are told not to speak to media but to allow the designated hitter to present the official message. If they do speak, they can only cite something on a state web site or other things readily available to the general public.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: My understanding is that Chafee is banning state employees from being on talk radio in their capacity as state employees. He’s the boss, and he’s entitled to do that. And he’s being dumb and petty and setting himself up for problems down the line.

  4. Bob Nelson

    The ultimate boss of people like the Governor is…the voters and constituents. They work for us. And his decisions can indeed lead to his being fired if need be.

    Gov. Patrick makes monthly appearances on WTKK and I think Coakley as AG has done the same. Sen. Brown has appeared on WTKK, WBZ, WRKO, etc. Obviously during the campaign season, pols do appear but some of our officials do respond to
    their constituents (and take calls from listeners, etc.)
    at other times as well.

  5. Chafee’s action is stupid and shortsighted, but I must point out that there are a whole LOT of Republican politicos who routinely refuse to appear on “unfriendly” media. Indeed, one of the disturbing trends of Campaign 2010 was the number of Republican candidates who turned down virtually all media: Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, etc. Sarah Palin never appears anywhere unless (a) the host & audience bow reverentially at her feet, and (b) she’s gettin’ paid.

    Is that any way for “leaders” to act?

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