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This is why newspapers are dying

Cranky retired editor blames GOP for the demise of fake news
By Sandra O'Brien
April 12, 2024
On The Record

While attending a political event a few months ago, I ran into an old friend. She asked me if I knew Brent Larkin, former Executive Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

Yes,  I knew him. Not very well mind you, but I did have contact with him when I was the Ashtabula County Auditor. I also sat before him several times at candidate endorsement interviews.  

For those of you under 40, this used to be a big thing. Back when people read newspapers, candidates would sit in front of editorial boards and hope their answers would lead to the newspaper's endorsement—very 1990's. 

But I digress.

So, I asked my friend, “What about Mr. Larkin?” She asked, "Hadn't I read his column last Sunday? He laid a hateful diatribe on Congressman Jim Jordan." 

I told her, "No, I hadn't seen it. I dropped my subscription to the Plain Dealer the same time I dropped my telephone land line. And for the same reason." 

I told her to send me a copy, which she did. In the margin of the article my friend had written two questions: “How could the Plain Dealer publish this stuff?” 

And, “What happened to Brett Larkin?”

As I read Mr. Larkin's column, I realized why my friend was so upset. 

The attack on Congressman Jordan was complete. 

You could almost see the spittle jumping off the page. 

Every flaw, both real and imaginary, was hurled at Mr. Jordan.

Since that acidic character assassination back in October, Mr. Larkin has used his soap box to attack:

•     GOP members of the legislature (my colleagues and me) as trafficking in “lies, misrepresentations, disregard for the law and utter contempt for the electorate.”

•     Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Jason Stephens as “older white men who owe their success to cheating -- defying the Ohio Constitution by drawing rigged legislative districts and then tricking voters into believing they’re public servants.” 

•     New Youngstown State University President (and former GOP Congressman) Bill Johnson as “either dumb or a liar.”

•     Ohio’s legislative and judicial branches as “lack(ing) any redeeming qualities, acting and ruling in ways that show utter contempt for Ohio’s citizenry, its constitution and the rule of law.”


Those are some mouthfuls.

After all this vitriol, I began to think deeply about the two questions my friend asked. How could the Plain Dealer allow such a diatribe to be printed? 

I doubt that anyone at the Plain Dealer has the brass to tell Mr. Larkin that his time is up. Those running today's Plain Dealer probably worked for Mr. Larkin back in the day. 

Who knows, he may have even hired them. No one wants to deliver the pink slip to Mr. Larkin, the living legend from the Plain Dealer's halcyon days. 

There is also the financial aspect. The current condition of the paper probably precludes the hiring of a younger talent to take Mr. Larkin's place. 

Why pay benefits and salary to someone new when Mr. Larkin can phone in an article on the cheap? Besides, Mr. Larkin can entertain the staff with the Plain Dealer's past glory before it slowly slips into oblivion.

That leads to my friend's second question: “What happened to Mr. Larkin?” 

Mr. Larkin is getting older. 

As some of us age, our fuse gets shorter. It takes less of a spark to light it. 

I recall how a late relative of mine would suddenly turn hostile at a family gathering if anyone had the audacity to say something less than positive about Richard Nixon. His sudden anger could clear out a room rather quickly. 

I see some of that anger in Mr. Larkin's column.

He has become the cranky old man of Ohio state media, yelling, “Get off my lawn,” at everyone and everything he detests.

The other thing that happened to Mr. Larkin is professional failure. 

When he took over as editorial director in 1991, the Plain Dealer was a powerhouse. It could create, destroy, investigate and intimidate. It was judge, jury, and executioner to anyone or anything in its sights. 

When Mr. Larkin left in 2009, the Plain Dealer was a shell of itself. While I'm sure technology has a role in the Plain Dealer's demise, this happened on Mr. Larkin's watch. 

It had to be difficult to live through the shrinking circulation, the layoffs, the shattered union, all occurring under Mr. Larkin's leadership. 

Failure is a hard thing for any of us to live with. 

The captain of the Titanic only had to live with his failure for two hours before he went down with the ship. Mr.Larkin has to live with his every day as the Plain Dealer gets thinner and thinner.

Perhaps my friend was justified in being upset about Mr. Larkin's column. She might want to temper her anger with a bit of pity as well.

Senator Sandra O’Brien represents Ohio Senate District 32