We’d be first to argue for the rights afforded all Americans under the First Amendment to the Constitution. While it has fueled debates and caused deep rifts between people, freedom of speech has empowered us to criticize our government and hold in check those who would attempt to unfairly exert their influence and deprive us of our rights.
Therefore, we defend the right of Rob Cote and the Warwick Car Tax Revolt that he spawned to comment on City Council and Warwick proceedings.
We also see a line between commentary on the system or the actions of an individual and an attack based on personal bias. Does this mean the opinions of the openly bigoted should be censored? Does this mean they should be silenced, and who would decide that?
This is a slippery slope. Should attacks, whether contained in advertisements, published in newspapers, sent by email or shouted from the street corner be stopped, especially when they are of a demeaning and scurrilous nature?
Again, we defend the freedom of speech, but we also note the rights of others to counter such comments and to take steps to bring suit to defend their character and, if justified in court, be compensated for damages inflicted.
We would hope Mr. Cote recognizes this.
The right he is afforded to comment on people and events is also afforded others to say what they choose of his actions and opinions.
We find Mr. Cote’s attack of Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis particularly offensive, not because he would prefer to see Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla be elected City Council President – Mr. Cote is entitled to his opinion – but because his attack is premised on her education. Furthermore, he alleges “the fix is in” on the assumption that Mrs. Travis will follow the bidding of the administration.
In an ad appearing in today’s Beacon, Mr. Cote lines up Mrs. Travis’ qualifications, as he sets the parameters, against those of Mr. Merolla. (We should add that Mr. Merolla was not consulted about the ad and made a point to our reporters that he favors the debate of issues and ideas but not personal attacks.) Under Mrs. Travis’ qualifications, ranging from education to professional experience and her primary concerns, Mr. Cote places question marks while those of Mr. Merolla are carefully detailed.
Is this any worse than some of the negative advertising we saw in the last election on the local, state and federal levels? Certainly not. It may even be considered tame by that comparison. Mr. Cote has made his point. We know how he feels about Mrs. Travis. We also can infer he thinks that 18 years of experience on the City Council doesn’t count for much.
And we hope we have made our point: personal attacks don’t have a place in this debate. We wish Mrs. Travis every success should her fellow council members choose her to be their leader.
If Mr. Cote continues to be so moved by concern about what happens in Warwick, perhaps he should run for office himself.