UPDATED: The RI news media would rather throw shade at John DePetro than inform Rhode Islanders.

Understanding that not everybody has a degree in journalism, let’s try a quick quiz.

You’re a journalist with a mainstream news organization covering the Ocean State. A protest outside the governor’s house sees some modest action when two participants are arrested. One local freelance journalist captured the entire thing on camera and the video on his Facebook page.  Do you:

A. Pay the journalist and license key portions of his video for your own coverage?
B. Request to use portions of his footage for your coverage and provide a link to your audience for the complete video?
C. Use portions of his footage and give him credit, but without providing a link to the full video?
D. Embed or link to the complete coverage with or without a request, because that’s how the internet and social media work, and freelancers can make money off of eyeballs?
E. None of the above. It’s John DePetro, and it’s more important to try to deny him any credit than inform your audience.

Rhode Island’s mainstream news organizations chose to answer the question in different ways.

  • ABC 6 avoided the question altogether by actually covering the protest and getting video of its own.
  • Channel 10 (WJAR) went with option C, flashing a tag, “John DePetro Facebook” over the key moment from the video, but not providing a link from the online story.
  • Channel 12 (WPRI) did something similar, using “John DePetro Show” on the video, but using a clip from an irrelevant part, mentioning John by name in the online story, although without any link.
  • The Providence Journal went with option E, saying only that “videos posted to social media showed that a group of protesters gathered outside McKee’s Cumberland residence.”
  • But the award goes to Edward Fitzpatrick of the Boston Globe, whose long report doesn’t mention video of the incident, much less John DePetro.  In fact, Fitzpatrick goes so far as to include video that Valley Breeze editor Ethan Shorey managed to capture (apparently) of the tail end, while the protesters were walking back to their cars.

This presents an important lesson.  None of the coverage shows anything to contradict the claim of the police that they “responded to a disturbance” outside the governor’s house.  As John’s video makes clear, and as I described earlier today, the police were there and waiting from the beginning and had a big hand in making the protest challenging, tense, and ultimately productive of arrests.

This story raises important and intriguing questions that could generate investigative reports, talking-head debates, and commentary for weeks.  Groups are being treated differently.  Out-of-uniform officers may be causing disruptions at rallies.  The police were ready and waiting, with zip-tie handcuffs at the ready.

But the news media doesn’t really want to touch it because they’re ideologically opposed to the protesters (in contrast to BLM, whom they thought it a privilege to cover and support), and because direct footage of the key incident was captured by a source they’d rather ignore, pretending he’s not what they claim to be.

UPDATE (10/9/21 6:15 p.m.)

A pseudonymous account on Twitter responded to this post, saying John “created his own legacy, not us.”  This is precisely the point.  They would rather enforce their group shaming than better inform their audiences (which means instead of better doing their jobs).

This attitude has a second harmful effect more profound than leaving Rhode Islanders more ignorant:  It negates the possibility of redemption.  They’ve written John off (as most of them have done to me, by the way), and he is therefore banished with no hope of return.

Nobody should behave that way, but more so those with a pretense to informing the public about the state of reality.


Featured image by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash.

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