By Joe Setyon
December 20, 2021
In yet another case of blatant media bias, a Rhode Island National Public Radio (NPR) report ignored a stunning example of public officials and a teachers’ union thwarting government transparency, while also failing to honestly cover a mom’s battle for her fundamental rights as a parent.
Shortly after a court hearing in a major public records case out of Rhode Island, the Goldwater Institute was contacted by a reporter for The Public’s Radio, an NPR affiliate, regarding the Institute’s client, Nicole Solas, a mom who made national headlines in her fight to find out whether her daughter would be exposed to politically charged materials in kindergarten. When Solas couldn’t get a straight answer, she turned to her state’s public records law, only to be stymied when the school district told her it would cost $74,000 to view the information she was entitled under the law to see. Later, in an unprecedented effort by a private organization to interfere with a citizen’s right to access public information, the state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), a private labor union, sued Nicole to block her efforts to receive public records
But instead of reporting on these events, The Public’s Radio told a different tale, reporting uncritically and at length on a new proposed “anti-racism” policy adopted by the district, portraying Solas and the Goldwater Institute as impediments to that policy and grossly mischaracterizing the Institute’s work to promote academic transparency and school choice. Their journalistic malpractice wasn’t for lack of information: Goldwater Director of National Litigation Jon Riches gave an extensive interview to the article’s author, Alex Nunes, who chose to quote neither from Solas nor from Riches.
One would think a journalist might understand better than most the importance of public records requests to enable the public to keep account of what its government is up to. Public records laws are a crucial tool to help reporters—and citizen activists—uncover truths about their governments, whether they be details about taxpayer-funded expenditures or information about what children are learning in public school classrooms.
Instead, Nunes depicted Solas as a nuisance whose requests imposed a “burden” on local government employees, while also quoting a “racial justice” advocate who attacked Solas’ motives. This framing portrays the government as an entity that should selectively choose what public records should be made available based on the subject of the request or the motivations of the requester, neither of which is an appropriate basis under the law.
But the government doesn’t get to decide that it will only follow public records laws when it likes the request or approves of the requester. That would defeat the whole purpose of government transparency laws, which are intended to open the operations of government to the public, not close them when a public body deems a request undesirable.
Nunes then spent a grand total of two sentences discussing how America’s biggest teachers’ union filed suit against Solas, neglecting to say anything about the legal merits of the NEA’s case, other than to mention that the Institute is arguing that the union has no standing.
Why does the union have no standing? Nunes didn’t say. But the answer is simple. As Riches told Newsmax earlier this month: “The law is crystal clear that private third parties, special interest groups like this labor union, standing to disrupt the public records process.” In other words, the public has a right to know what their government is doing in secret, and under Rhode Island state law, private groups have no standing to block the public from exercising that right.
Instead of including any specifics about Solas and Goldwater’s argument, Nunes wrote an inaccurate characterization of Goldwater’s work to reform the education system, invoking the myth that school choice advocates simply want to steal public funds to finance private schools: “The Phoenix-based group backs school choice policies and says backlash against how race is taught in public school districts underscores the need for parents to direct public funds to send their kids to other schools.”
Goldwater believes school choice and academic transparency should work in tandem because parents, not bureaucrats, know what’s best for their kids and should be empowered to make an informed decision about the best schooling option available, regardless of their zip code. This could be a local district school, a district school outside of their residential boundaries, a charter school, a private school, home school, or any other range of education options—but ultimately, the funding should follow the students, and the government should not hold a monopoly over the funding and provision of education.
The Public’s Radio does not exist to be a cheerleader for Goldwater and its clients, of course. But does it really sound like the outlet is living up to the ideals posted on its “About” page?
“[W]e don’t tell you what to think. When a news organization does that they aren’t serving you, they’re serving themselves. Instead, we give options, not answers. We provide data, not conclusions,” the page reads.
This is a noble goal for any media organization, particularly one that receives taxpayer funding.
Unfortunately, what The Public’s Radio wants people to think about Nicole Solas, academic transparency, and school choice is all too clear.
Joe Setyon is a Digital Communications Associate at the Goldwater Institute.