BRENT LARKIN BOWS OUT AS PD EDITORIAL BOSS

Submitted by Roldo on Mon, 06/01/2009 - 17:23.

Brent Larkin is receiving some deserved attention as he leaves one of the most powerful positions in our city – the Plain Dealer editorial page director.

 

We can’t allow him to leave the stage so easily.

 

Larkin – likeable and knowledgeable – has been boss of the editorial page since the early 1990s. He had wanted to be the PD’s sports editor at the time he was given this crucial and powerful job.

 

Here’s how someone who worked with him at the time described him:

 

“I think there is little question that Brent had the institutional memory of the PD and editorial board. Plus, Brent remained a reporter even as editorial director. He broke more stories than anyone in the news room. Brent works the phone like no one I know. They joked about him having two phones in his ear.”

 

He was a political junkie.

I have to say that I liked Larkin personally. I thought him to be an honest and hard-working reporter with the Press.

 

The Press had a different culture than the Plain Dealer. It was more a people’s paper. More free swinging than the staid, self-important Pee Dee.

 

Larkin started, as he said in his farewell in Sunday’s paper, as the Press city hall reporter during the frenzied Kucinich administration in the late 1970s. The Press treated Kucinich more fairly (well, even handedly, let’s say) than did the Plain Dealer.

 

Despite his likeability, I have had problems with Larkin over the years.

 

He played politics himself. He sometimes used his position to help friends.

 

Here from a piece in my newsletter, Point of View, in October, 1995:

 

“Larkin has used his position to help friends before. He bashed the United Auto Workers on the union’s attempt to have a workmen’s compensation law tested in the courts. Some believe Larkin’s tirade was really an attack for the UAW’s opposition on a Blue Cross matter. Blue Cross is represented by Climaco, Climaco, Seminatore, Leftkowitz and Garofoli, which gets some $6 million a year in fees from Blue Cross.

“Larkin has a close friendship at the Climaco firm that makes some wonder how close. At another time, Larkin wrote a strong and strategically timed editorial supporting the Blue Cross of Cleveland’s take-over of the Cincinnati Blue Cross without the usual editorial staff discussion of the matter.”

 

Larkin, in an interview on the PD web site Cleveland.com, said, in answer to a question about his political leaning, that he’s “this much” left of center. He used his fingers to show almost no room between them.

 

However, shortly after he took his position in 1993, Larkin dumped the PD’s editorial writer on national politics, Chris Colford, a liberal editorialist.

 

Here’s what I wrote:

 

“He told Colford, a prize winner, that he would be shifted to write about environment, energy, science and the arts. But that was just step one.

 

“Larkin, who lacks skill in dealing with people, then offered a shocked Colford a buyout in an attempt designed to usher him out the door rather than just shift his duties.”

 

The “buyout” got revised to an “exit bonus” after Colford went to the Newspaper Guild for advice.

 

I went on: “Colford, a rather gentle, thoughtful writer who loves his job, apparently has no place in a Larkin editorial staff. One veteran reporter called the move an ‘ideological’ one to get rid of a liberal voice.”

 

A retirement party at the PD gave hints of Larkin’s powerful position.

A number of politicians made appearances including George Forbes, Lou Stokes, both former Republican chairman Roger Synenberg and his wife, Joan Synenberg, who owes her election to Larkin’s editorials against her opponent. Even Forest City’s Sam Miller was there, I was told. Others, as Commissioner Tim Hagan, appeared in a video done for Larkin, according to a PD reporter.

 

Larkin played a protector role for many political and private figures.

 

The PD can be critical of how badly events go in Cleveland. Most criticism is aimed at politicians, who really dance to the tunes of the corporate leaders, who receive little, if any, censure.

 

Of course, the newspaper itself never enters the realm of self-criticism. Editorially, it keeps itself off limits. Even though it plays a key part of community decision-making – usually leading the way – for the dominate forces in the city and area.

 

Larkin’s most embarrassing revelation was the exposure of a trip he took on Dick Jacobs’ private airplane to Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in 1999. The plane was loaded with the city’s political and business leaders.

 

Here is how I described it:

 

“Well, we finally got them all in one boat, er, airplane.

 

“Playful Dick Jacobs. Was that the multi-millionaire with a large handkerchief over his face, blowing his nose? No, that’s the wealthy developer and owner of the Cleveland Indians… with a white cloth playing a Ku Klux Klansman…

 

“And who’s that see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and especially tell-no-evil Jacobs’ buddy? Why it’s Brent ‘Look Away’ Larkin, director of editorials for the Pee Dee. What better place for someone who has blinded himself to the inadequacies of political and business leaders in town. The user-friendly Larkin is quoted saying of Jacobs’ antics, ‘As far as I know, everybody got a kick out of it.’

 

“Now you have to remember that these are very sophisticated people. People whose community of interest calls for some flexibility by us of their righteousness.”

 

“This would only qualify as racism if someone with only a little money, little education and little power had made such a tasteless faux pas. For one it would be a crime; for the other it’s just a joke.”

 

It put Larkin in a conflicting position with top political and business leaders on a free trip to an all-star game. He should have been fired. But Editor Doug Clifton told me when I asked about punishment, “None given, none contemplated.”

 

The trip was revealed in an anonymous letter to a Plain Dealer columnist. My guess is that it was leaked by Mayor Michael White. Getting revenge on so many enemies must have been delicious for the mayor.

 

Larkin wrote when Gateway passed and made Jacobs even more of a multi-millionaire than he had been, “Now, do it right.”

 

He continued: “Negotiate fair leases with the Indians and the Cavaliers… Turning those promises into performance is the best way to make monkeys out of Gateway’s visceral opponents.”

 

However, the Larkin editorial page went easy as could be on Gateway as it sank deeper and deeper into debt and into the pockets of county taxpayers. No harsh criticism for his buddy Hagan or the rest of them.

 

That’s the way with big players. No criticism. No blame.

 

We suffer the consequences of this No Blame policy. We see the results all around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The joke is on Larkin