Some Guy Named Chafee, on Relations Between Government and Mass Media

For further examination of Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee’s decision to not allow state officials to participate in (certain aspects) of talk radio, let us turn towards a figure from another era, widely revered for his ideas on the subject of government and mass communication. The individual to whom I refer is the renowned First Amendment and free speech scholar Zechariah Chafee Jr., Professor of Law at Harvard University and primary author of a 1947 report put forward by a body known as “The Commission on Freedom of the Press” titled Government and Mass Communications. I believe he also had a nephew and a grand-nephew who went into the more practical side of politics.
Part III of Government and Mass Communications is titled “The Government as a Party to Communications”. Chapter 25 within that section is titled “The Government Talks to the People”. Despite the fact that the book was written before the birth of the talk radio formats which predominate the locally-produced politically and civically oriented broadcasts of today, many of Professor Chafee’s ideas are relevant to Governor Chafee’s decision to bar members of state government from appearing on certain local radio programs.
1. Regarding any from of communication between government and the media, Professor Chafee expressed skepticism about favoring one media organization or reporter over another…

[Press conferences] supply a much fairer method for getting governmental news and ideas into newspapers than the practice, which Theodore Roosevelt had initiated, of giving important stories to a single correspondent. “If a story is public, it should be made public,”, said an experienced informant. “To release it only to a favorite correspondent is definitely a harmful practice.”
It is hard to believe that Professor Chafee would have supported a blanket ban on government participation in particular media outlets, for reasons of either organizational structure (i.e the “for-profit” rationale) or conflicts between individual personalities.
2. Professor Chafee did express some specific ideas about the medium of radio…
When a President had many things to say, he was obliged to improvise a series of meetings in widely separated cities…The radio has changed all this. Unfortunately, its great merits were first appreciated by unmeritorious leaders. Still, not many years elapsed before Roosevelt and Churchill realized that a statesman at last had what he always needed — a direct road from his mind to the minds of millions, open for use almost the moment his thoughts were matured.
The Professor probably would not have harbored the attitude, which emanates from some Rhode Island quarters, that a Governor elected by the voters should not spend much time talking via long-form radio interviews directly to the voters. Rather, Professor Chafee saw the technologies which allowed executives to communicate their thoughts directly to the people as a positive, when in the hands of a meritorious leader (I’m pretty sure by “unmeritorious” leaders, he is referring to the European Fascists and the American “Populists” of interwar and World War II eras).
3. As to the purposes for which a meritorious leader talks directly to the people, Professor Chafee offered that…
Many purposes come to mind which can be promoted through governmental information. The broadest of all, perhaps, is to provide models of discussion that win respect for “talk” as an efficient, orderly means of clarifying goals, trends and the alternatives among which a choice is to be made. Free government depends in part on maintaining confidence in “talk”. Many forms of existing public discussion undermine respect for it. Often, the proceedings follow no clear line and seem to provide no more than entertainment or the chance to sound off in an undisciplined fashion.
The idea of a top priority of government being to provide examples to the public seems quaint today, embraced by neither the modern right, who see government full of strange behaviors to be avoided, nor the modern left, who see example-setting as a function secondary to the direct technocratic management of society. But the fact that the patricians of Professor Chafee’s era assumed something no longer uncritically accepted, i.e. that the best exemplars of civil behavior would automatically find a place government, does not diminish the importance of recognizing that government leaders do set examples that certainly will be observed and, to some degree, that will be emulated.
Whether he intends to or not, Governor Chafee (the younger) is providing a model of a leader who is either unwilling or unable to directly express matured thoughts directly to the public and who would prefer to eschew the process of persuasion and “talk” as much as possible. To be frank, he gives every appearance of fearing that “talk” will highlight a lack of coherence between the goals that important to society and the choices that his administration will make. The damage done by this example — if you believe the ideas that Professor Chafee sought to advance — impacts more than just short term political fortunes or to the day-to-day operation of government; it extends to a weakening of the democratic fabric in general.
Or maybe you believe that Great Uncle Zechariah had it all wrong.

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Monique
Editor
10 years ago

Terrific find, Andrew.

bella
bella
10 years ago

Could Uncle Zack have foreseen the way talk radio is used today?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

So bella doesn’t like the way talk radio is used?She’s typical left winger who believes free speech should be selective.
If we’re going to talk about “vitriol”and personalization,let’s go local and take a peek at Pat Crowley.He’s an Alinskyite operative who specializes in character assassination and peddling rank lies.But Governor Gump is Pat’s boss’s(Walsh)pet dog,so I guess that isn’t the hate speech he’s blubbering about.

bella
bella
10 years ago

If I may be permitted to slip the exalted (at least by himself) Mr. Bernstein a point of information, Crowley may have the ego of a PRO host, but his spew does not go out over a microphone every day.
If people want to recall Chafee because he won’t appear on a radio show…well, I guess Cianci didn’t do enough to humiliate our state on a national level after all.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

bella-you have a keyboard and so do I-what’s with the “exalted” crap?I’m an opinionated person and I don’t give a hoot if you like what I say or not.have at it,but stop whining like a damn child whose ice cream cone melted on her pinafore.
His refusal to appear is his prerogative,but his pressure on businesses to boycott other businesses using the power of the Executive Branch is crossing the line.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

bella-IF Crowley could get a sponsor he’d be on radio,but who would listen to him except some NEA people and legend in their own mind brewpub “revolutionaries”?
i actually think a lot of NEA people detest him,but they’re stuck with him as long as Walsh is running the show.

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

I read a comment today that pointed out the conflict of interest exhibited by Chafee, over his smokescreen of not wishing taxpayer funded state employees expending work time on “for profit” media outlets, all the while, while Chafee’s on our dime (his wages are paid for by the taxpayer) he’s speaking to the Journal, a for profit enterprise he owns a good portion of stock in. Given Chafee’s advocacy that advertisers boycott local radio stations, while not advocating local tv stations and the Journal, he’s attempting to attack radio stations based on a bias against those who might be critical of him, while not doing so against those who are in his pocket, as well as protecting an entity from which he derives profit. This is illegal, it’s also a violation of ethics and of the constitutional protection of a free press. As to Bella, Pat Crowley might not be on the airwaves, but he’s a paid lobbyist now ensconced in a position of power, which he, as a radical leftist, he will exploit to our detriment. He’s shown contempt for the citizenry and taxpayers. He’s a disconnected, disinterested elite, who speaks out of both sides of his face. His propaganda seeks to exploit the long suffering displaced workers, bemoaning how the pain caused by bad policies, he himself supports (though he won’t admit it, he hides behind doublespeak) enrich the wealthiest, at the expense of the poor, yet Crowley looks down upon those poor, and the struggling middle classes as non-entities whose actual feelings he finds inconvenient, and unworthy of consideration, and certainly no right to have a public forum (which talk radio stations do provide). Much better for frauds like Pat Crowley, for the poor and downtrodden to be isolated, and marginalized, so as to better exploit them,… Read more »

bella
bella
10 years ago

Mary, all you have to do is ask for the saucer of milk.
The ProJo is owned by a conglomerate from Texas. The Chafee clan owns but a sliver that can be bought out any time the Belo people want to make a power play.
And if you want to see a politician control the media, check out Italy. Berlusconi owns the TV stations and can choke any investigation of his prostitutes and underage female companions with impunity.
But then again, maybe that kind of oligarchy is what some people in here want.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

bella-nice comparison.I’m sure Chavez’ takeover of the media in Venezuela is no problem for you.
I’m not surprised at Chafee’s move.After all,Gump had a photo of himself and Fidel Castro together on the wall of his campaign HQ.
Too bad you can’t take a sojourn in Cuba,bella.
I guess you’d enjoy lining up in a queue for exotic things like soap and toilet paper.You couldn’t complain,because you’d get “re-educated” in a NY minute.

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

Not quite, Bella.. the cattiness is all on your part. Chafee, in 2006, owned over 3 million in BeloJo stock, then prior to his running for governor, socked whatever the amount was, in a not quite so blind trust – LLC, sad “blind trust” in his wife Stephanie’s name. Can’t help but wonder, if like his pal, John Kerry, whose Microsoft holdings have tripled, from 2 million to almost 9, since he started voting per Bill Gates demands for increased visas to displace citizen workers.
Your not at all troubled by Chafee’s bleeding hundreds of thousands of dollars from the starving people of the Ukraine, purportedly to “advise” the nation on how to go from Soviet style despotism, to the sort of corrupt practices ol’ Linc cuddles up to on a regular basis.. like how he helped one of his buddies dump barrels of highly toxic chemicals and then skip town, as senator, now are you.
Frankly, your commitments aren’t to what is accountable and just, but to what is politically expedient. You fail to grasp how you show yourself to be a hypocrite, who has painted herself into the corner, and rather than attempt to honestly engage in debate, you hide behind your pathetic claws, such as they are.

bella
bella
10 years ago

Mary, you’re not still buying those Ukraine fairy tales, are you? The desperation of the anti-Chafee folks has reached ridiculous levels, to the point where no new customers are buying the goods. When the old customers start dying off…
Chafee sits in office because of the hubris of his enemies…who it’s painfully obvious haven’t learned their lesson.

George
George
10 years ago

keep talking bella.. you’re on the verge of revealing your true identity…

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

Andrew
Please explain the Anchor Rising policy that banned Rhody and others from commenting here.

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

Bella, the facts are directly from Chafee’s own financial disclosure form, and he’s held the position since leaving the senate. Lincoln Chafee, took a leaf from Bill Clinton’s playbook, by profiting through assembling a clutch of interests he’d help, and he took this paid position for the Ukraine government, to arrange opportunities for his special interests to loot the Ukrainian people’s treasury, all for the promise of future kickbacks, aka contributions and potential money making opportunities, one such example could be contributions or board or other positions for himself or his wife and children. People who read the foreign press know that the former top officials of the Ukrainian government are being arrested on corruption charges. Here’s hoping Linc’s dirty fingerprints are found to be on some of that corruption and he’s implicated.
Lincoln Chafee doesn’t have a plan for RI’s economic woes, and has no plan on trying to deal with them.. his interest is in exploiting whatever position of power he can, to further enrich himself, and his connections at our expense, just as his cowardly leader, Obama does.
We have an opportunity here, in that Chafee’s not so blind trust, reveals his deliberate bias. All we need, according to the repeal language in the state constitution is for him to be accused, charges aren’t required, and after his first six months a recall petition can be handed in to start the process. What’s more, there are opportunities for lawsuits for Chafee violating the US constitutional provision for a free press, and from what I’ve read, his gambit also presents a violation of the whistle-blower protection act. This corrupt fraud needs to be hemmed in from all sides.

bella
bella
10 years ago

Recall as basically a do-over of the election…I doubt the majority of R.I. voters, even many who did not vote for Chafee, are going to buy this.
Think of the precedent this sets: those who are unhappy with the results of such a recall election will simply start another recall, the precedent of recall without charges having been established (unless R.I. has a recall-proof movie star on its ballot).

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Gray davis of CA and Evan Meacham of AZ were recalled.Neither squeaked in with 35% either.
There was no counter recall in either case.
Facts,bella,not fantasies.

bella
bella
10 years ago

There was no counterrecall in either case because:
By the time the people anxious to turf Davis realized Arnold was a RINO, it was time for another election anyway. And who would’ve dared try to recall Arnold.
And even conservatives in Arizona were sick of Mecham’s racist act.
An attempt to recall Chafee sends the message that anyone can try to undo the results of a fair election. Is that the message we really want to send?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Yes,if it’s appropriate.
And keep in mind it wouldn’t be anyONE undoing the results-it would take a majority of the voters(for a change)deciding something.

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