Although someone on the Providence Journal’s editorial board wanted to offer a published explanation of the newspaper’s dramatic and unacknowledged recent reversal in endorsing the Harrah’s Entertainment-Narragansett Indian casino, the ensuing editorial never made it into the print version of the ProJo.
The unsigned editorial, headlined, “Editorial Mysteries,” was posted on the Journal’s Web site on November 2 — almost two weeks after the newspaper switched its long-held position by editorializing in support of the casino proposed through ballot Question 1. The change came as a considerable surprise for Rhode Islanders (see “A curious editorial switch on the Harrah’s casino,” News, This Just In, November 3).
“Editorial Mysteries,” however, has not appeared in newsprint and it appears to have been deleted from the online editorial section at www.projo.com. (In endorsing Question 1 last week, the Phoenix called the envisioned casino a potential economic benefit for Rhode Island, while also citing the need for state officials to scrutinize a final deal and to establish proper oversight.)
The conservative blog www.anchorrising.com, which has been critical of the ProJo’s reversal in endorsing the casino, posted a link to the editorial after it appeared online. Three days later, a visitor to Anchor Rising posted this comment: “It seems it was only posted online until the bosses woke up in the morning and realized it was posted? If you try to find it now, it’s disappeared completely from the site. Poof!”
Although the editorial can still be found online, this seems more by accident than by design.
The tangled tale of the semi-visible editorial is ironic, in more ways than one.
“Editorial mysteries” sought to shed light on the ProJo’s sudden and unexplained October 22 reversal in endorsing a destination casino, mildly describing, “The editorial speaks for itself, but we repeat here that the prospect of more jobs for Rhode Islanders, especially for hard-pressed low-income people, including immigrants, was the overwhelming factor.”
It went on to describe how “members of the editorial board freely express their opinions to the publisher and their colleagues on the board, but the publisher, as the leader of the business called the Providence Journal, is the arbiter of what will appear in the editorials . . . Editorial writing occurs in a collegial setting, but is not a democracy.”
Disclosing such information — as part of an editorial that rebutted “many colorful conspiracy theories, about why the paper took its pro-casino position,” and which reasserted how the casino endorsement was decided “here in Providence, and not in Dallas, at the headquarters of Belo Coporation” — apparently hit a nerve.
While ProJo publisher Howard Sutton and editorial page editor Robert Whitcomb have declined to return calls about the casino editorial, the decision to not publish “Editorial mysteries” in print seems in keeping with Sutton’s modus operandi.
In 2002, the publisher spiked an op-ed about the current state of journalism by Charles McCorkle Hauser, a gutsy former ProJo executive editor, after Whitcomb had praised it and prepared it for publication. Similarly, in 2001, an editorial, which reignited charges that Rhode Island’s largest health-care provider was mishandling its finances, was suddenly deleted after briefly appearing on the Journal’s Web site.
Considering how the ProJo’s editorial page has long and staunchly opposed various casino concepts, an explanation of its recent change of heart was more than warranted. When it comes to airing such a reversal, though, the prevailing in-house practice seems to be: don’t ask, don’t tell.