Editorial

LOW HANGING SUITS

The Providence Journal, October 25, 2021

CVS Corporation, the seventh-largest company in America and the second-largest pharmacy in the world, is, incredibly, based in Woonsocket. Yet you would almost never know it. Despite being about 20 times the size of the state government of Rhode Island, the powerful and influential company operates in relative obscurity because it receives little scrutiny from the journalists of the Ocean State.

Television, radio, and newspaper reporters still pursue the antiquated idea that the government is what must be held to account — but power is not in Providence, it is in Woonsocket. CVS has a roughly $250-billion annual budget and employs 300,000 people, compared to the governor's $14-billion budget and about 14,000 who work for the state.

The top 50 individuals who work at CVS make millions of dollars every year and live lavishly right here in proudly blue-collar Rhode Island, but most people know more about the low-hanging suits and salaries at the state capital than the truly powerful executives of CVS.

Rhode Island journalists and the companies that employ them, such as The Providence Journal, NBC Channel 10, or even NPR, have faced dwindling audiences for years. Needing to reinvent themselves, they have instead stuck to an old formula of covering politics and all that the government does, resulting in a familiar rut of roasting hapless fire department officials, police officers and politicians.

Much more interesting, and much more powerful, are the executives of CVS and the everyday decisions they make. And the money. Follow the money. Over the last 10 years the top executives at CVS have made an average of $13 million per person, per year, every year. That’s much more consequential than the $145,755 salary of Gov. Dan McKee, or the paltry $16,636 salary of a state senator. Yet the focus of journalists up on Smith Hill remains in a trivial pursuit of government.

Perhaps the truest expression of American democracy today is the 100 or so largest companies in the U.S. These successful billion- and trillion-dollar institutions are in effect decentralized sources of power. Companies like Apple, Google and CVS are global in scale, and on the ground in Rhode Island, dwarf the government meant to regulate it, and the local journalists who should scrutinize it. 

The power, the money, the influence of big business is by and large missed, under-reported, or bought and paid for. Journalism in Rhode Island, like many other places in America, is cowed and lazy. Cowed because business power can intimidate and corrupt, and lazy because the First Amendment makes it easier to report on government than to report on a business. 


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