A tale of two TV stories

Hidden influence can be a bigger concern than aggressive reporters
By IAN DONNIS  |  June 18, 2008

Bill Rappleye, the political reporter of WJAR-TV (Channel 10), was pursuing the time-tested adversarial relationship between reporters and elected officials when he recently asked  Governor Donald L. Carcieri to explain why he isn’t violating the state’s anti-nepotism law.

The question, launched about a third of the way through a May 22 taping of 10 News Conference, WJAR’s Sunday morning public affairs program, triggered a series of parries and thrusts in which Carcieri treated the topic as a non-starter and Rappleye kept pushing for more details.

The focal point was Stephanie Accaputo, the governor’s niece-in-law, who works as a $52,120 a year administrative support specialist in the executive department, and whose hiring had been reported by the Providence Journal in 2003. Carcieri said Accaputo had previously been vetted and that she was deemed a “distant relative.”

Yet Rappleye, citing the governor’s self-description as an opponent of cronyism and State House corruption, wondered why Accaputo’s job doesn’t violate the state’s ethics regu-lation, which defines family members as including nieces and nieces-in-law. (He neglected to mention that nieces-in-law were not included in the definition when Accaputo was hired.)

While some call Accaputo’s employment old news, it had renewed relevance since the governor is leading efforts to downsize the state workforce.

And the clash, which was excerpted for a report that day on WJAR’s evening news, sparked a more high-profile conflict.

John Robitaille, the governor’s recently hired communications adviser, accused Rappleye of going over the line, making “a carefully orchestrated partisan attack on the gover-nor,” and he demanded an apology from Channel 10.

Even though Paul Giacobbe, WJAR’s part-time ombudsman, backed the legitimacy of asking about Accaputo’s state job, he found that the “demeanor of the reporter and the nature and tone of questions regarding the employment of the niece was inappropriate.” The split ruling seems curious, particularly considering how Rappleye remained polite, if pointed and persistent, through his line of questioning.

More damningly, Lisa Churchville, Channel 10’s general manager, wrote to Robitaille that “Mr. Rappleye has been reminded of his responsibilities to the public as an impartial journalist.”

Meanwhile, another provocative story involving WJAR was, relatively speaking, slipping under the radar.

A promotional matter
One of the colorful tidbits to emerge from the recent US District Court trial of two former CVS executives was how WJAR facilitated a 2002 request by one of them, Jack Kramer, for tickets — for then-state Senator John Celona, as it turns out — to a taping in Chicago of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Nothing unusual there; As Churchville told the ProJo: “I did get Jack the tickets. CVS is a big client, so if they ask, I’m happy to contact the program.” This kind of thing has got to be a fairly common occurrence in television.

Yet a decidedly spicier revelation could be found when the Journal’s Mike Stanton, reporting on closing arguments in the CVS trial, wrote, near the end of his May 30 story, “[Defense lawyer David] Fein argued that it wasn’t unusual for CVS to pay for television interviews . . . Fein showed the jurors a proposal from Channel 10 (WJAR), an NBC affiliate, to air com-mercials and do news updates on its news broadcasts as part of a $100,000 promotional package for the 2002 CVS Classic golf tournament. Besides television commercials, Channel 10 agreed to air news updates, including a live interview of Kramer by early-morning anchor Frank Coletta, and to produce two half-hour specials hosted by sportscaster Frank Carpano.”

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  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, University of Rhode Island, John Celona,  More more >
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