It wasn’t in Russia. It wasn’t in China. No, it was right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. where, a couple of weeks ago, two newspaper executives were thrown in jail by a local law enforcement official who didn’t like what their paper had been writing about him. The men have since been freed, the charges against them dropped, and the special prosecutor on the case dismissed, but the fact that the whole episode even occurred ought to worry anyone who values free speech and an independent press.
The media execs in question, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, run Village Voice Media, owner of the Phoenix New Times, an alternative newsweekly that apparently had gotten under the skin of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with coverage critical of Arpaio’s department. Lacey and Larkin chronicled the whole “donnybrook” in the newspaper a day before their arrests, but suffice to say that they and the sheriff didn’t take a likin’ to one another, and the sheriff done set his sights on them.
The arrestees quickly became causes celebre in the alt-press community, and their fellow newspapers at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies gamely showed solidarity by doing exactly what seems to have pissed off Arpaio the most: Revealing his home address.
That might seem like a real finger-in-your-eye move, but read about the whole case before you conclude that it’s a jailable offense. The most salient facts: The New Times published the address more than three years ago; the address was already available online; and as an invasion of privacy it pales next to the prosecutor’s attempt to subpoena detailed information about every visitor to the New Times website since 2004. As Jack Shafer points out in Slate, that’s people like you and me. —Keith Goetzman