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Happy Friday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I say Kristen Welker was the clear winner of last night’s debate. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.
ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 29,594 confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, after adding 398 new cases. The most recent overall daily test-positive rate was 2.7 percent, and the first-time positive rate was 11.2 percent. The state announced four more deaths, bringing the total to 1,173. There were 140 people in the hospital.
It has been nearly 18 years since the Station nightclub fire that left 100 people dead, and it feels like there isn’t a single Rhode Islander who wasn’t affected by the tragedy.
A new book coming out next week by former Channel 6 news director Scott James revisits the fire and includes interviews with some who have never before talked publicly about the incident. We talked to him about the book, “Trial by Fire” (which you can pre-order here).
Q: There are a lot of Rhode Islanders who think every facet of this story has already been covered 10 times over. What’s something new that readers will learn?
James: Several people with key information about the disaster have been silent since the fire, and they’ve come forward to share their versions of events. Because there were no trials, criminal or civil, the government’s version of events was never vetted or challenged in court. That left unanswered questions. It turns out there are counter arguments and other evidence. Now people can consider those.
The book also gives the tragedy new understanding because it’s told in a way that’s better able to grasp it. “Trial by Fire” follows a handful of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by that awful night, from before, during, and after the tragedy. And with access to scientific research, once-secret grand jury testimony, and other facts that surfaced later, the story emerges in a way it could not when the media covered an overwhelming frenzy of information at the time.
Q: Was there anything you thought was true at the beginning of this project that turned out to be false or completely different?
James: There were so many conspiracy theories about the fire, and some even made their way into the news media at the time and were presented as facts that upset the public and were not true. Investigating these red herrings took a considerable amount of time.
Q: You write in the afterword that there will be people who don’t like how Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are portrayed in your book. They haven’t been publicly interviewed before. Do you feel like you were more sympathetic to them than others have been?
James: Many people feel they’ve never been told the whole story, but they also bitterly reject the idea of hearing from the “villains” of this tragedy. The book includes the first interviews with the nightclub’s owners, the Derderian brothers, and Barry Warner, who was connected to the sale of deadly foam placed in the club.
Brian Butler, a TV news photographer who was vilified for capturing the fire on tape from the inside, also spoke for the first time. And there’s an interview with TV anchor Matt Lauer – perhaps his first on-the-record interview after his “Today Show” scandal. Lauer has an unexpected appearance in the fire’s aftermath.
I knew that including these controversial voices could lead to accusations that they’ve been given a platform to rehabilitate their images. But basic journalism requires including all sides. The Derderians were central figures in the tragedy, so they are central to the book and depicted as human beings, the same as the other major subjects.
Q: Former attorney general Patrick Lynch told you that “closure does not happen” with tragedies like this. But do you think telling the full story the way you have will help victims and their families in some way?
James: People experience grief in different ways. For some, the lack of definitive answers has been agonizing. Did the band really have permission to use fireworks? Did the club owners knowingly install flammable foam? Was the nightclub illegally overcrowded? Why were so few held accountable?
The answers to these questions will help some people. Closure, however, is not really possible. Families still come home to an empty bedroom. That doesn’t change. But the nightclub fire revealed how institutions we believe will protect us, or be there for us in a crisis, are failing.
So for the sake of the victims, survivors and their families, it’s ultimately more helpful to learn lessons from this tragedy and fix our systems so it doesn’t happen again.
THE GLOBE IN RHODE ISLAND
⚓ Rhode Island appears to be on track to post its highest voter turnout ever, as more than 168,000 residents have already turned in their ballots. Read more.
⚓ My colleague Jon Chesto reports that wind giant Ørsted has a new North American CEO. Read more.
⚓ Columnist Kevin Cullen again takes Bishop Tobin to task in his piece about Pope Francis endorsing same-sex civil union. Read more.
⚓ There’s a new documentary coming out next week about Mark Baumer, the man who tried to walk barefoot from Providence across America. Read more.
⚓ Rhode Map readers have sent another round of Happy Birthday wishes to: Stacey and Brian Dodier (44 – they’re married, not twins), Sharon Crausman, Andrea Iannazzi, Pete Janhunen, Caitlin Murphy Scott (34), Garry Bliss, James W. Zimmerly (57), Chynna Smith, Ellie Welborn, Macken Murphy, Lavender Pliss, Christina Nikovits, Sophie Wieting, Toyin Animashaun, Amanda Booth, Taylor Jackson-Hamilton, Ed Pacheco, Andy Andujar (41), Megan Crosson Gilpin (25), Sarah Reynolds (39 forever, I hear), James David Barnes (6), Julie Siirila (62), Pam Grace (66), Lauri Friedman, Eric Friedman, Ross Colgan (33), Juan Pichardo, Gara Field, and Joshua Aromin (31).
MORE ON BOSTONGLOBE.COM
⚓ POTUS: My colleague James Pindell hands out his grades for President Trump and Joe Biden following last night’s debate. Read more.
⚓ Politics: US Senator Susan Collins of Maine and East Greenwich native and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon battled in their fourth debate last night. Read more.
⚓ Unsolved: Author Becky Cooper has a new book coming out about the unsolved 1969 murder of a Harvard graduate student. It sounds like a fascinating story. Read more.
WHAT’S ON TAP TODAY
Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.
⚓ The Gordon School is hosting a Zoom discussion at 8:45 a.m. with historian Ted Widmer on the presidency, race in America, and the parallels between today’s America and the divided country of the 1860s.
⚓ House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Republican challenger Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung are taping a debate on WPRI’s Newsmakers this morning.
⚓ The Globe’s Joan Vennochi and Scot Lehigh are having a virtual discussion at 2:30 p.m. with Sarah Lenti and Stuart Stevens from the Lincoln Project, the organization that has been running scathing ads about President Trump.
⚓ Jeff Benedict, author of “The Dynasty,” is holding an outdoor book signing in Westerly on Saturday at 1 p.m.
⚓ Do you ❤️ Rhode Map? Your subscription is what makes it possible. We’ve got a great offer here.
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