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Local Radio, Web Anonymity, and the Degradation of Public Discourse

Why does our local media seem to amplify bigotry and classism?

One of the biggest challenges that Woonsocket faces is the negative attitude toward the city that the other communities around us seem to have. The city has experienced great economic and social decline in the last six decades, which is the source of this negativity, and the reputation that we have gained as a degraded and failing city may very well be accurate. Surprisingly to me, though, is the same negative attitude seems to have become the de facto attitude of even our long-time city residents who can remember when the future of Woonsocket was a lot brighter.

Recently, I had a long back and forth with a Woonsocket homeowner on my facebook page. She, like most city homeowners, is in a tough spot. Her taxes keep going up, city services continue to be slashed, and the lack of commerce in the city has forced her, and many others, to do make even the simplest day-to-day transactions - like food shopping - outside of the city. I understand her frustration, but many of her comments demonstrate an insidious negativity about the city which, I believe, is far more detrimental than even municipal bankruptcy. Here are some excerpts from her comments:

"I will be ready by summer to put my home on the market by summer (sic).  I am not willing to wait around until it gets better."

So, the solution is to pack up and leave? That seems like a cop out to me. If one truly cares about the city, they stick around, get involved, and try to make things better.

"This city has nothing in case you've missed it."

I beg to differ. We have many small mom and pop shops in Woonsocket that still serve the needs of the community. These businesses have stuck it out while the Big Box stores have bugged out. They have done so because they are part of our community, and want to see it succeed. Walmart, Lowe's, and Staples, by their "CEO and shareholder profits over all" business plans, could care less about the success or failure of the city.

She then insists that our leaders are elected by,"... the elderly and the others who are on the dole one way or another," who "... enjoy being a hamster on a wheel."

As a resident and voter in this city, I find this personally insulting, and you should, too. 

According to this person, Woonsocket is a, "...pathetic excuse for a city."

If you believe, as I do, that cities are not made of buildings, roads, and bridges, they are made of people, this comment means that she thinks that the residents of Woonsocket are pathetic excuses for people. Again, I'm insulted, and you should be, too.

This one is my favorite. She writes, "I am screwed living here...solve my problem!!!!" Her empahasis, not mine.

The idea that any one person can solve this city's problems is laughable, and the use of the words "my problem" are indicative of another insidious problem faced not only by Woonsocket, but the country as a whole. Until we start to  view our communities as living entities, made up of people of all colors, creeds, and classes, rather than merely a collection of individuals, we will continue to see social, environmental, and economic degradation. The whole is greater, and more powerful and resilient, than the sum of the parts.

This pervasive attitude is only reinforced by our local talk radio hosts, whose shows only serve as an echo chamber for negativity, narrow-mindedness, and frankly, thinly-veiled bigotry. Tune in to the John Dionne or Larry Poitras show on any given afternoon, and you'll realize what I'm saying sooner rather than later. I understand that in the media, controversy equals ratings, but radio stations like WOON and WNRI also have the responsibility of adding to civil public discourse. I hear none of this coming out of these stations.

Even the Woonsocket Patch, where you may be reading this, serves to amplify this din of negativity, NIMBYism, and narrow-mindedness. One only has to read the comments on any post to see the magnification of our  city's problems, writ large. To make matters worse, most of the commenters on Patch, in a stunning act of cowardliness, hide behind fake screen names, giving them the comfort of anonymity, and in my opinion, making their comments worth next to nothing. There is no true discourse in anonymity. If you are going to make a comment in a public forum, at least have the brass to use your real name and own it. The City Council wouldn't let you make comments during their meetings with a bag over your head, why do it on the internet?

The local radio hosts and callers are not above reproach in this matter. Many of the callers hide behind names like "Elmer Fudd" and "The Milkman", and the hosts let them get away with it.

To top it off, we don't even see the worst of it on Patch. Editor Rob Borkowski has told me, in so many words, that a good deal of his time is spent moderating comments, and I can sympathize. After working as a reporter and editor for the online environmental news site ecoRI.org for the last three years, I've had to wade through many of the naysayers' ill-informed comments. People just don't like it when you challenge their world-view.

The behavior and language used by the hosts of these shows, many who call in, and many of the anonymous commenters on the Woonsocket Patch are guilty of, at best, willful ignorance, and at worst, hatred, classism, and racism. So I offer this challenge to those folks:

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Now, I'm not saying that they should not call these shows, or leave comments on Patch, outlining what they see as the problems in the city, but for all of our sakes, begin and end your calls and comments with something you see as a plus in the city. This is what those in Human Resources call the "compliment sandwich."

I know that I will probably catch a lot of guff for this post, but one of the jobs of a mayor is to confront the social ills of a city head on, and frankly, I only see Mayor Fontaine contributing to, and pandering to those who hold, these false assumptions and negative attitudes with anti-renter, anti-low income rhetoric, which is, again, thinly-veiled bigotry and classism. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David Fisher February 25, 2013 at 07:46 PM
I welcome all comments, but would prefer personal interaction concerning my campaign. My email is dafisher[at]gmail(dot).com. Contact me anytime.
Jean-Paul Paquette February 28, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Way to start off a mayoral campaign.....contact the circus, Woonsocket has plenty of political clowns, no need for any more.
David Fisher March 01, 2013 at 12:59 PM
Jean-Paul, thanks for using what I assume is your real name. I hope to see you at one of my listening events.
Mike Kind March 01, 2013 at 01:05 PM
This depiction of the negativism in the City is, in my view, largely correct. On the other hand, I don't think Walmart left (after spending a six-figure sum to buy and demolish Roller Kingdom) and others followed because of their profit motives, but because of the NIMBYism alluded to in these comments. Also, there is one thing that John, Larrry, and the Mayor have in common. They all love this City and would love to see it rebound. The radio talk shows are a reflection of the problems delineated on this commentary, not the cause of it. Finally, it was obvious that it would be nearly impossible for locally elected officials to deal with the necessary systemic changes required to extract us from this financial nightmare. Most cities that had homestead exemptions phased them out years ago because, like it or not, these exemptions raise the corporate tax rates and make your city less competitive. The unions will be required to voluntarily surrender some of the entitlements they had previously secured, and the unfortunate taxpayers will have to pay more and get less. This is not a scenario that promotes re-election.
David Fisher March 01, 2013 at 03:56 PM
Mike, I thank you for this well thought out, civil, and non-anonymous comment, if that is your real name, of course. I agree that the talk radio stations are not the cause of the self-image problem that we seem to have in Woonsocket. The real issue, to me, is that as media outlets that, by law, are the curators of the airwaves on behalf of the American public, they have a duty and responsibility to not propagate falsehoods or hatred. I understand that everyone has an opinion, but when you voice that opinion in a public forum, if your opinion is not borne out by the facts, it is the duty of the moderator of that forum to disabuse you of that false notion. The local talk radio hosts, for the most part, fail miserably on this, and in that failure, perpetrate a great disservice to we, the people. If you'd like to talk further, please message me on my facebook page. Thanks again. http://www.facebook.com/DaveFisherForMayor
Christopher March 01, 2013 at 10:57 PM
The problem with local talk radio is that the hosts have many "friends" in this city. It may be worth considering that many of these folk have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, at least in the short-term. However serious your campaign is (and you have 100% of my support), it will be viewed by our long-time "the way it was" folks as some new guy trying to rock the boat and throw them overboard.
David Fisher March 01, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Thanks, Christopher. That's exactly what I'm trying to do, and I'm more than willing to be the boat rocker.
Still Hope March 02, 2013 at 05:12 AM
Dave, I admire your frankness, but if you are truly serious about a political future, you are starting off terribly. Though YOU may see your informality and open-mindedness to be refreshing and radical, you are breaking many common political etiquettes and you would otherwise be akin to a poor salesman. I agree with a little of what you've said above. People are a lot more self-centered than they used to be. Where once you knew everyone in your entire neighborhood, now you are lucky if you ever see the person in the apartment above or below you. This really isn't a Woonsocket issue, it's pretty epidemic throughout much of the country. There are remedies for this, but that is a whole discussion in itself. Back to you. You are essentially instigating animosity toward yourself by calling out the media and the loudest voices of the community. You don't stand on your soapbox, raise your middle finger, and expect people to hang around to listen to you. One of the reasons people such as myself choose a screen name and avatar is to protect our integrity. You cannot pick me apart on Patch, the only ammo I give you are my words...and I have many. Would it appease you if I were to relinquish my true identity? So be it: Thomas Jefferson. Feel free to Google me if that will validate my posts. Here's a primer if you are truly interested: How to Run for Local Office [Kindle Edition] by Robert Thomas on Amazon. You ideas mean squat if you can't make it past the ballot box.
David Fisher March 02, 2013 at 03:33 PM
Thank you for your insight as to how to run for office as a typical politician. Fortunately, I am not a typical politician, and I think that my frankness, and unwillingness to mince words is a positive for anyone out there that is tired of politics as usual. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say, or write, in this case. And more often than not, I have the facts on my side. I will continue to call out those "loudest voices" when they demonstrate a lack of intellectual curiosity and/or willful ignorance and hatred. I do not think that the hosts or callers on these shows are truly representative of the people of Woonsocket.
Yvette M Ayotte March 03, 2013 at 11:28 PM
I'm sorry Mr Fisher but I don't agree with you. Most people on those talk shows do represent most of the citizens in this city. They've been waiting a long time for answers and their voices are never heard anymore. They are upset with the way The Budget Commission have been dragging their feet, etc. As for people who want to leave now, they wish they could do it sooner. Not all can afford to pay their motgage and the higher taxes, needless to say this city is looking like a dump, etc. I take it you haven't been listening to the talk shows for a while? There are lots of educated people who call and state some very positive views about their city, so don't put them down. You are not making many friends out there. Also, what's this I hear? After all the negative comments you made about the shows and their hosts, you emailed Larry to be on his show, what's that all about??
David Fisher March 04, 2013 at 03:23 AM
Ms. Ayotte, I want to thank you, first. for using your real name in this very public of forums. Secondly, I will say thank you for supporting the effort to allow our neighbors to keep chickens in a responsible manner. I wholeheartedly support this measure. Lastly, I will thank you for spending much of your free time helping to make this city a better place by, for one, cleaning up litter from our streets and city parks. I too, am a compulsive litter picker-upper, and I have a car trunk full of other peoples trash to prove it. Also, you can call me Dave. Due to the Patch word limit, and the length and depth at which I would like to respond to Ms. Ayotte's comment, you can find my response here. http://goo.gl/r0Brw
Steve March 04, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Mr. Fisher, part of your dialoge and insight when talking to a homeowner in the city states: So, the solution is to pack up and leave? That seems like a cop out to me. If one truly cares about the city, they stick around, get involved, and try to make things better. Mr. Fisher, one quick question, are you an actual property owner in the city of Woonsocket? If not, how can you relate to anyone who is actually paying extremely high property taxes, excise taxes, water fees, sewer fees, trash fees and such? You say you understand her frustration, please explain how you actually understand it. Thanks,
Jay March 04, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Yvette, he is making friends. It's nice to see someone different represent the city. If Larry is a real radio host, he'll invite Dave to his show to have a true political conversation.
David T March 05, 2013 at 01:56 AM
Larry's show would be so much better with an occasional guest. He owns afternoon drive time 5 days a week. Time to end the no guest rule. I don't care who he has on. 90 minutes of Broaster House ads and basically the same callers every day gets tired. I honestly don't know how he's done it for so long all by himself.
Russell Archambault March 05, 2013 at 04:54 AM
Dave, as im sure your aware what your going up against in woonsocket. Many people like Yvette M Ayotte.Maybe we should run the city through her eyes. Don't dare talk against her iconic friends on talk radio,whether their views are right or wrong she is sticking with them. Good luck !
David Fisher March 05, 2013 at 06:42 AM
Steve, While my name may not appear on the property tax rolls in Woonsocket, I do see these bills coming into the home that I share with my elderly mother,and a good portion of the very little money that I make goes toward paying those bills. I also own a 12 year old vehicle, which the city began taxing in the very same year that it was supposed to be considered non-taxable. I reject, outright, the notion that renters in this city do not pay into the city's tax rolls. Do you honestly think that a rental property owner does not consider all of these bills when calculating what to charge for rent?
Steve March 06, 2013 at 01:07 AM
Mr. Fisher, thanks for the reply. It’s my belief that before you go slamming a property owner for “copping out” on the city of Woonsocket, you walk a mile in our shoes. By not actually owning property in Woonsocket, you have not paid anywhere close to what others have in regards to real estate taxes, water, sewer, and trash taxes, yet you write off our complaints as “copping out” on the city of Woonsocket. Our real estate investments have plummeted over the last four years (Junk Bond status), yet our taxes have increased over 25%. Folks are done with this city, they’re done with the lack of services, they’re done with the lack of proper city maintenance, and are finding ways to escape the constant beat down this city puts on it’s taxpayers! You slam the Patch, the local radio stations/callers and some of the property owners you talk to, and refer to us as ill-informed, racist and bigots, yet, for some reason, you chose to announce your candidacy for the Mayoral position on the Patch, really? You also have never held any public position such as the City Council, School Committee or any other public office, yet you feel you are qualified to run the City of Woonsocket better than the incumbent. Well Mr. Fisher, I wish you luck, because as far as I can tell, you face a real uphill battle. Good luck sir...... You’re going to need it.

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