MacKay’s fill-in column comes to a sudden end

As The ProJo Turns
By IAN DONNIS  |  July 16, 2008

Providence Journal political reporter Scott MacKay’s temporary assignment as a political columnist came to an abrupt end after his July 8 column cited a disconnect between some politicians’ emphasis on illegal immigration and its actual impact in Rhode Island.

The move, in which MacKay was filling in for vacationing political columnist M. Charles Bakst, raised eyebrows across the ProJo newsroom, particularly since it came when Bakst had another week-and-a-half of vacation.

Conspiracy theorists may wonder why MacKay was relieved of his temporary role within a few hours of when most ProJo readers read the immigration column.

It began, “In this summer of $4-a-gallon discontent, a Rhode Island economy hemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate, and the housing slide eating away at homeowners’ accumulated wealth, you might think our political leaders would have something more important to do than wrangle over the illegal-immigration issue.

“During the legislative session that closed last month, the State House was the scene of contentious debates over proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants. In the end, the measure requiring private employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires crashed in the waning hours of the session.”

MacKay went on to note that a small percentage of respondents in a Rhode Island College poll cited illegal immigration as a top priority, and also noted, “Rhode Island’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which requires seasonal workers, many of whom are foreign.”

As it happens, Governor Donald L. Carcieri, who has made a high-profile stand against illegal immigration, appearing the day before on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, returned to Rhode Island’s talk-radio airwaves Tuesday, July 8 to talk more about the issue.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the administration “absolutely” did not express any concerns to ProJo management about MacKay’s immigration column or about his role as a fill-in columnist.

MacKay declined to comment. In his role as a temporary columnist, he has also written about Democratic unity, the likelihood of status quo in the General Assembly, and the reper-cussions of slavery in Rhode Island, topics less contentious than the current hot button of immigration. Tom Heslin, the Journal’s interim top editor, did not return a call seeking com-ment.

On July 9, WPRO-AM talk-show host Dan Yorke ripped MacKay and myself for what he characterized as a misleading use of the immigration-related data in the recent RIC poll. I responded, in part, by telling Yorke that illegal immigration receives a disproportionate amount of media attention in relation to how much voters care about it.

Ultimately, MacKay, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Rhode Island politics, was a worthy choice as a temporary replacement for Bakst (whose retirement looms on the horizon). Yet considering the different roles of a reporter and a columnist, perhaps it’s not surprising that the ProJo reconsidered the assignment.

This item was first published at

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