Veteran newspaperman Jim Larkin's recent death at the age of 74 prompted remembrances, tributes, and newspaper articles marking his passing. Highlights from some of these follow.
The reality of veteran newspaperman Jim Larkin’s untimely demise on July 31 at age 74 has begun to sink in, with remembrances, articles, and commentary appearing on social media and legacy media alike.
His death came close to the start of a second trial of Larkin and five others in Phoenix, Arizona on allegations of “facilitating” prostitution via ads posted by users to the classified listings giant, Backpage.com, which Larkin co-owned from 2004 to 2015.
Scheduled to begin Aug. 8, Federal Judge Diane Humetewa has since delayed the trial till Aug. 29.
She also formally dismissed the indictment against Larkin.
Remaining defendants include Larkin’s friend and longtime business partner, renowned journalist and editor, Michael Lacey, as well as four others — execs and employees of the company.
Their first trial in Sept. 2021 ended in a mistrial after just three days of testimony as a result of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecution is now in its sixth year, with Humetewa being the fourth judge to sit on the case.
The new trial is estimated to last 12 weeks — not including a week’s break — and end in early November.
Below, in random order, are links to pieces written about Larkin’s passing, with highlights from same. Front Page Confidential (FPC) recently published Lacey’s remarks following a private service for Larkin. Last week, FPC posted a statement from Larkin’s family.
FPC will continue to add to this list as necessary.
— carpe gin (@t_fin) August 8, 2023
In conversations with Reason, Larkin and Lacey have always been adamant that they are innocent and that the First Amendment protected Backpage and the speech it platformed. “We’ve never, ever broken the law. Never have, never wanted to,” Larkin said back in 2018. “This isn’t really—I know this is probably heresy—this isn’t about sex work to me. This is about speech.” Though of course, “sex workers have an absolute First Amendment right to post ads.”
He reiterated that sentiment last March. “To me, the issue is, and always has been, the speech. We platformed legal speech. The government didn’t like the speech, but it was legal,” he said. “I know that we’re innocent and this has been a political prosecution from day one.”
“If the government decides to point its finger at you, there’s really no question that they’re going to try to ruin you,” [Larkin] said. And “given the system and the way it’s set up,” principled resistance could only go so far.
— Stephen Lemons (@stephenlemons) August 6, 2023
Does anyone know how much money — our tax dollars — is being spent on this joke of a prosecution?
Before the federal government got involved, our now-Vice President Kamala Harris filed state charges on Lacey and Larkin when she was still Cali’s attorney general.
She wanted to score cheap political points while she was running for U.S. Senate.
The case was thrown out twice, with few charges surviving. Meanwhile, Harris was elected to the Senate.
All of this government misconduct has had dire consequences.
Larkin was the most valuable mentor in my journalistic and publishing career . . . The advice he gave, at no personal gain, to my Baltimore City Paper business partner Alan Hirsch and me was vital in the success we had. I recall one conversation, late at night, beers knocked over on a table at Portland, Oregon’s Benson Hotel, and after two days of receiving compliments on CP’s editorial content, I complained to Larkin that we hadn’t broken the hump of advertising. He took me aside and said, “Stop whining, and do something about it!” The next morning he said he didn’t mean to be harsh—that was unnecessary, for his admonition was not only well-intentioned but accurate—and said he’d be glad to offer any help on business side that we wanted.
Because I am of a romantic nature, I entertained the thought of Lacey and Larkin going to the wind. Disappearing. Surely they had seen this time coming and had the money and the smarts to come up with a plan. Even in this techno-charged world, a man can still hide, can’t he? Maybe a village near the sea in a warmer hemisphere. An old gringo living modestly in retirement.
But I am projecting. That is not Lacey’s nature. He relishes a fight. He remains self-assured though the world aligns against him. And Larkin? I never knew him well, but he seemed cut from the same cloth as his partner. He has hung tough in courtrooms and in front of Congress even while hostility poured down like rain upon the two.
While there’s been plenty of discussion about Backpage, related to questions around Section 230, sex trafficking, and a variety of other things, much of the public perception about it is completely misleading. The actual details suggest that the media, prosecutors, and some politicians basically concocted an astoundingly misleading narrative about [Jim] Larkin (and his partner Michael Lacey) and what they did at Backpage.
Larkin, going back to his days running the alt weekly New Times (which eventually took over the famed Village Voice) always believed in fighting strongly for his free speech rights, including getting arrested a decade and a half ago for going public about a bullshit subpoena they had received from then-sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As some actual reporting details regarding Backpage, contrary to the public story about how Backpage was actively encouraging and enabling sex trafficking, the company worked closely with law enforcement to help them track down and arrest those responsible for sex trafficking. They literally hired a former federal prosecutor who was on the board of NCMEC to help them stop anyone from using Backpage for trafficking.
But nothing cemented [Jim] Larkin’s legacy of supporting fearless reporting as did the New Times’ coverage of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who helmed the office for more than two decades. Under Larkin and [Michael] Lacey, New Times uncovered countless misdeeds at the sheriff’s office — and in 2007, the sheriff arrested the two executives for exposing a grand jury probe into the paper for its reporting. The charges against them were eventually dropped, and they won a $3.75 million settlement in 2013 after suing the sheriff. They donated the money to their nonprofit, the Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund, to distribute to local Hispanic groups.
One reporter at the paper at the time was John Dougherty, a writer at the New Times from 1993 to 2006. It was his reporting on Arpaio’s shady real estate dealings that kicked off the grand jury saga. “I was very proud to be part of the team,” Dougherty recalled in a phone interview Wednesday. He remembered Larkin as a “class act,” and a publisher who was willing to invest in the writers working at his papers.
“If Lacey bought off on a story, Larkin was going to make sure the money came,” Dougherty said. With Larkin as publisher, he said, reporters chased stories that other media outlets shied away from. “It was because we had the freedom to follow the stories, and we had the support of the publisher. And the publisher was Jim Larkin.”
[Miami New Times editor Tom] Finkel shared similar sentiments, remembering Larkin as “a man of extreme integrity.”
“He never stopped being a journalist at heart. In the fiber of his being, he had the DNA of doing what these papers did,” he said.
In the effervescence of 1968 in Mexico, a young Anglo witnessed the student movement while studying in Mexico. That young man was Jim Larkin. Radicalized by the events in which the Tlatelolco massacre occurred, he returned to Phoenix, his hometown. He teamed up with another young man named Michael Lacey to start a student newspaper that would expose government abuses in light of the deaths on Kent State University, where the U.S. National Guard opened fire on anti-Vietnam War protesters. In that time of idealism, they worked collectively, and the newspaper turned into a kind of commune. Everyone had the right to express their opinion if they contributed time into the elaboration of the product. The Phoenix New Times began covering what the Arizona Republic didn’t want, or didn’t dare to cover in depth, like the Arizona Republic journalist’s death of Don Bolles investigating fraud and Mafia influence in Phoenix.
R.I.P. Jim Larkin:https://t.co/PFl7h1Ytxb
— Maggie McNeill (@Maggie_McNeill) August 7, 2023
Far too often, journalists reserve their free speech defenses for people they actually like. And man, did they not like Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey.
The New Times honchos—especially Lacey, who was always the more public and pugilistic face of the franchise—were resented because they threw sharp elbows at both the graybeard alternative weeklies to their left and at the big-city dailies that were originally to their right but then tacked over time to the kind of bloodless lefty respectability space inhabited by NPR.
But the overarching journalism-industry response to the past seven years of Backpage founders being hounded by ambitious politicians and prosecutors and thrown into courtroom cages; their family members being pulled out of the shower; their bank accounts seized; their ankle bracelets affixed . . . has been studious indifference and silence.
“I never saw my friend do a dishonest or dishonorable thing in his entire life,” Lacey said of Larkin after his death. “I had a four-decade friendship with a wonderful man. Now I have only his memory.”
Lacey founded the Phoenix New Times after the 1970 Kent State shooting, in which four students were killed and nine more were wounded by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the Vietnam War on campus. Larkin joined him a year later, and the paper quickly gained a reputation for its irreverence and anti-establishment attitude.
“Jim Larkin was one of my heroes,” said Stephen Lemons, who worked for the New Times from 2004 to 2017. “My heart aches for his family.”
A 2021 Government Accountability Office report found that backpage.com’s takedown, paired with the passing of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, actually made it harder to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking cases, as adult advertisers took their businesses to less cooperative websites hosted overseas where United States subpoenas mean very little.
“We are devastated at the loss of James Anthony Larkin,” [Larkin’s] family told New Times on Wednesday.
“Jim was an incredible husband, father, grandfather, colleague and friend. His life and legacy embody the spirit of his home, the Sonoran Desert.”
“Jim fearlessly blazed his own path in life and always stuck to it,” the statement read.
“As the publisher of the Phoenix New Times and other weekly alternative newspapers for over 40 years, Jim fought for voices and issues ignored by society.”
“He fought against police brutality, he fought for immigrant rights and, above all, he fought for free speech,” according to the statement.
“He wasn’t afraid to pick up the unmovable boulders of our society and shine light on the corruption beneath.”