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Boycott breakers: 2014 election edition

The Political Scene
By PHILIP EIL  |  January 22, 2014

 0124_TJI_PRO_wrap.jpg
ON THE AIR Block, Fung, and DePetro.
Regardless of how you feel about the recent return of Rhody “shock jock” John DePetro to the 9-to-noon slot on News Talk WPRO 630, you have to marvel at the situation it’s created. We have a Political Science 101 case study on our hands.

Let’s review.

1) It’s an election year.

2) In recent months, at the encouragement of the advocacy organization For Our Daughters RI (helmed by the Director of Political Activities for the RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, Maureen Martin), more than 90 politicians and candidates have publicly vowed not to appear on WPRO while DePetro — who called union protestors at a September Gina Raimondo fundraiser “parasites,” “hags,” “cockroaches,” and “W-H-O-R-E-S” on-air last fall — is employed there.

3) Despite the protests, DePetro returned to the WPRO airwaves earlier this month after a lengthy “vacation,” triumphantly blurting during his first show, “Politicians and unions should not interfere and try to silence public opinion. . . The last time I checked, this is still America.”

This is the context for our Poli Sci experiment. Over the upcoming weeks and months, we — the citizens and media consumers of Rhode Island — will watch a boatload of politicos wrestle with two primal urges. Will they keep their previous public promise? Or will they succumb to the allure of a live microphone broadcasting to thousands of voters?

Two high-profile candidates have already chosen the latter. When the Phoenix asked businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block — who tweeted in December, “I will not appear on WPRO as long as John DePetro remains employed by the station. There is no place for that kind of vulgarity,” yet appeared on both WPRO’s Dan Yorke Show and the Buddy Cianci Show (three times) after DePetro’s return — why he broke his boycott, he sent the following response:

I announced my decision to not appear on WPRO as a way to show my disapproval of the words and actions of Mr. DePetro. I was the first Republican to do so and I took the stronger position of not only boycotting Mr. DePetro, but also boycotting the station. WPRO’s management has made the decision to keep Mr. DePetro and put him back on the radio. While I respectfully disagree with that decision, WPRO is a private business with the right to make that determination.

In addition to not actually answering our question, Block’s response oddly accentuates the strength of a boycott (First! Stronger!) that he, himself, nullified. But, alas, our follow-up question — “How are folks supposed to differentiate between an ‘I will not’ statement that actually means ‘I will not’ and an ‘I will not’ statement that is only ‘a way to show disapproval’ of something?” — received no reply.

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