The co-founders of New Times, now known as Village Voice Media*, were arrested last night ("led away in handcuffs," according to their press release), at their homes in Phoenix, AZ, on misdemeanor charges related to revealing details of a grand jury investigation. Mike Lacey, the company's executive editor, and Jim Larkin, VVM's CEO, revealed in a story published yesterday in the Phoenix New-Times, that the paper is the target of a grand jury investigation stemming from a long-running feud with mercenary county sheriff Joe Arpaio. A few hours later, they were in the pokey themselves.
Reports in the New-Times over more than a decade have detailed Arpaio's backroom dealings, his mistreatment of prisoners under his watch and his general scuminess. Prisoners at his county jail get only two meals a day, must wear pink underwear, and live in tents outside the jail where they work seven days a week in chain gangs, digging graves for the indigent.
An investigation by county prosecutors into the paper's reporting began when New-Times published Arpaio's home address on its website in 2004. A little-known Arizona statute dictates that it's legal to publish the home address of a law enforcement agent in print, or on the radio or television, just not on the Internet; when the print article was uploaded to the New-Times website, prosecutors pounced.
Lacey and Larkin's "first joint byline" in 40 years of working together came after the two decided the special prosecutor leading the investigation was operating outside ethical boundaries—according to Lacey and Larkin's piece, he had made ex parte advances toward the judge and subpoenaed "all documents" related to the paper's stories, as well as analytical information on the Internet activities of the paper's entire web audience, including IP addresses and "contents of electronic shopping carts." All you people who've bought that bestselling "How To Assassinate a Maricopa County Sheriff" are in big trouble now!
"In our deliberations, we faced the obvious: A grand jury investigation is a fearsome thing; a tainted grand jury is a tipping point," Lacey and Larkin write. "We intend now to break the silence and resist." They did so with the 5,000-word piece and were answered with a night in jail; they were released early this morning on $500 bonds.
New Times was born out of Kent State rage, and we're pretty sure Lacey and Larkin, while not wild about the whole jail thing, are kind of loving fighting the man again, though Lacey had enough decorum (shocking, really) to tell off reporters outside the jail: "The problem is that it takes me being arrested for you guys to show up. This is a story we're all involved in. Those subpoenas are what you should be writing about."
The Village Voice's editor, Tony Ortega, knows something about Sheriff Joe Arpaio; while a reporter at the Phoenix New-Times, he investigated the sheriff's abuse of prisoners, and had this to say about his bosses' arrests: "I hope that, whatever other journalists think about the Voice or VVM, they can see that this represents one of the worst abuses of a newspaper's first amendment rights in memory," he told us. Gotta say, we can't disagree with that. Update: Ortega weighs in with his own thoughts on the Voice's website.
*My former employer