Reed Pays Tribute to the Late Jim Taricani
Madam President, I rise today to salute a hometown hero, a dedicated journalist, and a trusted newsman, Jim Taricani, who sadly passed away last month after decades of contributions to Rhode Island and the field of journalism throughout this country. This is just an example of the tributes that he won by a very, very enthusiastic population of Rhode Island. This is the front page of the Providence Journal on the day of his funeral service.
He was a gentleman. He was a man of integrity, a man of fairness—the qualities that define a great journalist. In fact, the words ‘‘great journalist’’ and ‘‘Jim Taricani’’ are synonymous. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. He was an award-winning investigative journalist who earned multiple Emmys and the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award, and he was a true champion of the First Amendment.
Jim grew up in Connecticut and served the U.S. Air Force, where he was stationed in Europe as a military police officer. But he made his mark when he moved to Rhode Island and embarked on a career in broadcast journalism, first in radio, and then over a 30-year career at WJAR that spanned from the late 1970s through 2014. Jim began his stint for NBC 10— WJAR—as a general assignment reporter but gained notoriety for covering big stories and uncovering the truth. He went on to found the station’s investigative team in 1979. He earned a reputation for taking on tough stories about organized crime and political corruption.
In reporting on these difficult topics, Jim’s own integrity, selflessness, and fairness shone through every day and every moment. Indeed, Jim didn’t just talk about principles; he lived them. In February 2001, Jim obtained an FBI surveillance video from a confidential source. It showed a public employee accepting a bribe in the famed Operation Plunder Dome case, which transfixed Rhode Island and Providence, its capital, for many, many months. It marked a significant moment when people could see and hear what corruption looked like. Rather than following a court order to reveal the source of the tape, Jim stood up for the First Amendment, and he was sentenced to 6 months of home confinement.
Several of Jim’s friends and colleagues wrote letters to the judge on Jim’s behalf, including Christiane Amanpour, who interned for Jim in the early 1980s, when she was a student at URI. She noted that Jim Taricani taught her ‘‘that journalism when done right is a noble profession, that America’s unique commitment to freedom of the press is vital to a functioning democracy, [and] that holding public officials to account is the imperative of a corruption-free society.’’ Indeed, that is what Jim set out to do through his reporting. He became a strong advocate for other journalists, testifying before Congress about freedom of the press and the challenges journalists face in trying to keep the public informed about their government. His help, his actions, and his activity spurred action. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Senator Schumer’s bipartisan media shield bill. But the work to protect journalists, and to ensure that they can responsibly do their job and inform the public, continues. We must find a bipartisan way forward that balances freedom of the press and public safety.
Jim was also a tremendous advocate for the American Heart Association. A survivor of cardiovascular disease and multiple heart attacks, Jim documented his own process of undergoing a heart transplant, from uncertainty to recovery. Here is how the Providence Journal’s television critic described it: Listed—the title refers to the word from doctors that every heart transplant candidate longs to hear—is the most powerful human interest story I have ever seen on local television. It is courageous first-person journalism, a story that you may never forget. Taricani, who kept a diary throughout his hospital stay, wanted to have his experience videotaped in order to produce a donor awareness video for the American Heart Association. It was never his intention to broadcast the account, but when the news director, Dan Salamone, suggested it would reach a broader audience if televised, Taricani agreed. That was Jim. He was not looking to be the story but was willing to share his story if it could help others. Thoughtful, tenacious, and tough—that was Jim Taricani. By the way, 32 days after receiving his new heart, Jim was back at work, which tells you everything you need to know about how passionate he was about journalism and how much he loved his job.
Undoubtedly, the love of his life was his wife, Laurie White, who is a force in her own right and has taken up Jim’s cause of freedom of the press and encouraging the next generation of aspiring young journalists to go out and make a difference. She has endowed a lecture series on First Amendment rights at the University of Rhode Island in Jim’s honor, which is a fitting tribute. She said: Journalists bring sunlight to the stories that otherwise may stay hidden in the shadows. It is my hope that this lecture series will continue his legacy of inspiring the next generation of ethical and responsible journalists. I expect the series will help increase public understanding of the importance of a free press and the First Amendment for decades to come.
As a journalist and as a person, nothing stopped Jim from following the facts, uncovering the truth, sharing important stories, and enlightening his audience. We are all, in Rhode Island and across the country, deeply saddened by the loss of Jim Taricani, but his example and legacy endure. That legacy will sustain us and inspire us to continue working together to build a just and decent country, and for that we are all grateful to Jim. Madam President, I yield the floor to my distinguished colleague from Rhode Island, Senator Whitehouse.