Schumann's Cleveland Pages archives
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
What do we learn from this episode? Many things:
- The reality is that we have to be careful with anything that touches
the Klan... white supremacists in general... anything that could
look racially motivated. This is just a bad time and place to complicate
our very difficult ongoing social issues. A Klan visit doesn't help much.
Throwing verbal bombs over it helps even less.
- Forbes will do anything to be seen on the racial high ground, even
if it actually makes matters worse.
- Forbes will do anything to embarrass Mike White. Fortunately for
Forbes, this is quite easy.
- When the guy who owns the grieveously ugly Wahoo trademark puts on
a white hood for a laugh, he may need to be Schotted.
- Reality in Cleveland is funnier and more tragic than anything an
ABC script writer could make up.
- Bob Beck didn't get where he is by being dumb.
- When a mayor confronts the police union, the union wins. Ask
Dennis Kucinich. Ask Carl Stokes. Yes, this does have serious
consequences for civilian control.
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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