Jim Taricani, Rhode Island reporter who exposed corruption, dies

Jim Taricani, an award-winning TV reporter who exposed corruption and served a federal sentence for refusing to disclose a source, has died.
Jim Taricani, an award-winning TV reporter who exposed corruption and served a federal sentence for refusing to disclose a source, has died. Victoria Arocho/Associated Press/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Jim Taricani, an award-winning TV reporter who exposed corruption and served a federal sentence for refusing to disclose a source, has died. He was 69.

His friend Dyana Koelsch said Saturday that Mr. Taricani died at his home in North Kingstown, R.I., on Friday. The cause was kidney failure.

“Jim Taricani was a Rhode Island icon,” Governor Gina M. Raimondo said. “His passion for his work, his tenacity, and his integrity over his more than three decades in journalism earned the respect of Rhode Islanders everywhere. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”


“He was a reporter’s reporter,” said M. Charles Bakst, a retired Providence Journal political columnist who was close friends with Mr. Taricani. “As a journalist and as somebody who faced innumerable health challenges, he was the toughest person I knew. He was curious, restless, and relentless in the pursuit of the bad guys and shedding light on the workings of government and politics.”

Bakst said he will miss his friend. “But I am comforted to know that his career and biography will serve as an inspiration for people for years to come,” he said.

“Rhode Island has lost a legendary journalist and a familiar face to many,” said Mike Stanton, a former Providence Journal investigative reporter who was friends with Mr. Taricani. “There are a lot of good, solid TV journalists, and he represented the best of that local reporting, digging into stories. He didn’t like some of the frivolity of TV that started to take over the business.”

Stanton said Mr. Taricani “became a national spokesman for press rights and press freedom and the importance of reporters protecting their sources.”

Mr. Taricani covered Rhode Island for 40 years, 32 of them at WJAR-TV. He focused much of his reporting on organized crime, and chronicled the crimes of the New England Mafia and figures including Raymond L.S. Patriarca. He also became a national advocate for a federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal sources.


Mr. Taricani was convicted in 2004 of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal the source of a secret FBI videotape that showed a Providence city official taking a $1,000 cash bribe. The video was part of a corruption investigation that ultimately sent former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci to prison.

He said at the time that it was important to air the video to show people what corruption looked like.

A federal judge sentenced him to six months and allowed him to serve it in home confinement because of his health (he had a heart transplant in 1996). He was released after four months for good behavior. When he retired in 2014, he told the Associated Press that he would not have done anything differently.

‘‘I just believe that this is what a reporter does,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think any reporter wants to be in that position. But it’s part of the job. It’s part of the territory that we travel in.’’

The lawyer who was his source later admitted it and went to prison for contempt and perjury.

A Connecticut native, Mr. Taricani started in radio, and then was hired at WPRI-TV before going to WJAR, where he founded the station’s investigative unit. He won four Emmys, the Edward R. Murrow Award and the Yankee Quill Award, the highest individual honor presented by the Academy of New England Journalists.


He also became a mentor to generations of journalists in Rhode Island, both at his own station and at competing outlets.

Koelsch said Mr. Taricani’s wife, Laurie White, had received an outpouring of support Saturday, both from powerful politicians and regular people who loved and respected him. US Representative David Cicilline, who succeeded Cianci as mayor, remembered Mr. Taricani as “a person of extraordinary integrity and a principled journalist.” The Rhode Island General Assembly, convening Saturday morning, held a moment of silence in Mr. Taricani’s honor.

Koelsch said despite his health problems, Mr. Taricani’s transplanted heart was still going strong when he died.

Mr. Taricani told the AP when he retired that he knew he was well beyond the life expectancy of someone with a heart transplant.

‘‘I’ve been lucky,’’ he said. ‘‘Way lucky.’’

Edward Fitzpatrick from the Globe staff contributed to this report.