Schumann's Cleveland Pages archives

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Compromised Larkin? (06 August 1999)

Last Saturday's Plain Dealer told the now well-known tale of a recent flight on Dick Jacobs's private plane. While entertaining guests on his private plane, Jacobs thought it would be fun to do a little Klansman impression in front of a group that included George Forbes, who used to be President of Council and now leads the local NAACP. The story came to be published after Brent Larkin, the Plain Dealer's editorial page editor, mentioned it in passing to a Plain Dealer reporter. Jacobs improvised a white hood with eye holes and held up a handmade sign, maybe in part to poke fun at Forbes's very direct public stand against the Ku Klux Klan. Larkin admitted that he laughed at the stunt, as did Forbes.

The incident adds fuel to the increasingly weird and out of control public posturing over the KKK's planned rally downtown on the 21st. Mike White had moved to allow the Klan members to don their robes and hoods in a police garage to avoid confrontations with counter-demonstrators. Forbes, always eager to make White look bad, called upon NAACP members to attend a counter-rally while bitterly attacking the use of city resources to help the hate group.

Police union leadership protested the use of Police Department facilities. Then, in an ostensibly unrelated event, White alerted the media to the presence of white-supremacist graffiti around Police Department locker rooms and the existence of hate group members among the rank and file. Union leader Bob Beck turned the situation around masterfully by suing to stop the Klan rally from occurring at all.

And now Jacobs, who has been on something of a racial hot seat for years because of his ongoing use of the horrible "Chief Wahoo" logo and questionable team name "Indians," plays a tasteless joke in front of a Plain Dealer senior editor and Forbes himself. Forbes--local NAACP leader--is noted for laughing at the gag.

This is all amazing. You couldn't make this story up. If this were an NYPD Blue episode, the audience would be writing angry letters to the network about insulting their intelligence with such a contrived plot.

What do we learn from this episode? Many things:

What I really want to know though is: What was Larkin doing on the plane in the first place?

Larkin is supossed to be a journalist. Sure, he's a lazy one, and his opinion pieces remind one of Norman Solomon's accusation (actually leveled at National Public Radio) of "avid stenography for the powerful." Larkin has been in the news business a long time, so it's understandable that he'd grow to know and like some of the people he covers at work. Neither Larkin nor Jacobs is talking about the event now, so we can't say authoritatively whether free flights are part of the perks that Jacobs routinely offers friendly journalists.

I suppose I should disclose that Jim Rokakis drove me home from a Council meeting that ran late sometime around 1990. Does that count? Of course Council members got free Indians season tickets in those days... another obvious source of conflict.

If Larkin's conduct over the years is any indication, the mass media in Cleveland have become lazy, boring, and compromised. Can the Plain Dealer's ongoing losses in circulation be blamed on its exchange of hard news for celebrity puff pieces?

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