The Talkeetna Bachelor Society auction got raucous and a little raunchy over the weekend on the way to raising more than $23,000 for its Fund for Women and Children in Crisis.
Sixty-one-year old musher Jeff King, a four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, pulling a sausage out of his pants, and prancing around on stage in a snowsuit, shaking his hips and waving his arms above his head with a huge chunk of meat in one hand, and a pair of handcuffs and some roses in the other.
Think of an older, skinnier Chippendale dancer in coveralls with props, and you’ll get the picture. The women in attendance were reported to have gone “berserk.” Exactly why went unreported in the mainstream media.
It might have had something to do with the sausage.
Phil Manning – the master of ceremonies for the event and a news producer at KTNA, the National Public Radio affiliate in the small community north of Anchorage – laughed nervously when asked about the foot-long or longer sausage on Wednesday.
A KTNA report on the auction failed to mention the sausage or the sexually suggestive handcuffs and roses which netted King the biggest bid of the evening – $4,600. The KTNA story, written by reporter Kate Writer, did say this:
“Out came Iditarod Champion, Jeff King, wearing his mushers snowsuit and was he ever hot.
“…the ladies went berserk.”
What made King “hot” or why any women might go “berserk ” was not explained, though it might have had something to do with King’s hint at BDSM, after-auction activities.
The Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest newspaper, reportedly had more than one reporter at the event. Apparently one or more of them was involved in writing a slightly more revealing story that ran without a byline.
“King strolled the runway back and forth amid shrieks and shouts from a wild audience, at one point producing a stuffed animal from the fly of his snowsuit,” the story said. “A red rose and a pair of handcuffs in one hand, he pumped his arms as the auctioneer stirred up higher and higher bids from the crowd.”
With the reporter or reporters at the auction unidentified, the story appeared to attribute all of the information to “Sara Sickler of the Talkeetna Bachelor Society (who) wrote in an email.”
But Sickler said Wednesday, “I didn’t give the quotes.”
Attached to the ADN story was a video that showed King on stage pumping a long, whitish object into the air with his right hand and waving it while women cheered. Some viewers of the video thought he was waving a dildo. The ADN did not disclose who shot the video.
The women in the audience appeared to be enjoying the show, Manning said, or “it sure seemed like it at the time.”
In the video, many of them are clearly cheering King on while others look distracted. A couple in the front row appear to be shooting smart phone photos and/or videos.
“That’s not the worst that has ever happened up on that stage,” Sickler said in an interview Wesdnesday. “It was received obviously well.”
“I feel the ladies that attend know what they are getting into,” she added in a subsequent email. “They are there to be entertained and expect some level of shenanigans. Our attendees have never expressed disgust or transgression, yet, if someone were to come forward with a complaint, you better believe we would take it serious.”
King is a bit of a wild man (would one expect less from a four-time Iditarod winner?), and his antics were clearly well intentioned.
“You know I am kind of a split personality,” he told KTNA’s Writer. “I go back from being a showboat to wanting to hide out in the woods for months at a time and not talk to anyone. In light of the national exposure of sexual assault and class separation of men and women, pay scales. Knowing that this was a fundraiser for organizations helping women in crisis, it seemed like an appropriate cause as well as fun.”
Sickler said a Barrow woman in Talkeetna for a bachelorette party bid the $4,600 for King’s auction package, which included a flightseeing trip and glacier landing with an air taxi service, an all-terrain-vehicle tour for two on the outskirts of Denali National Park and Preserve, a tour of King’s dog kennels, and a room and breakfast at the Grand Denali Hotel.
Truth or dare
That the most visible part of King’s act was whitewashed by the media would, however, appear to indicate at least some people – ie. reporters – were uncomfortable. If you watch the video, you have to look closely to identify the handcuffs and flowers, but it’s impossible to miss the foot-long or longer phallic symbol King is waving.
“It didn’t seem like the most important part of the story,” Manning said.
Given the nature of the times, it also doesn’t seem like a part of the story that can be overlooked when describing a 61-year-old man as “hot” and performing in such a manner as to make women go “berserk.”
Especially when King himself raises the issues of “the national exposure of sexual assault and class separation of men and women.”
We are living in a strange time when the ground between the genders is shifting, and what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is subject to considerable debate, which is not to suggest King’s behavior was inappropriate but it clearly did leave some people uneasy and of the opinion that what transpired was better kept private.
“I don’t feel that Jeff King pulling a salami out of his pants is a newsworthy story,” Sickler said. She’s right. It’s not.
But once reporters decide the kind of “hot” show he put on is a newsworthy event, then they face an obligation to provide some sort of accurate summary of what kind of show took place.
There is a good and legitimate argument to be made for news organizations simply trimming King’s sexually suggestive behavior out of the story about fundraising for a Fund for Women and Children in Crisis and leaving the video for the strange world of social media. There is an equally good and legitimate argument to be made for simply being honest about King’s behavior if what he did is considered “newsworthy.”
But if the story is judged newsworthy, tell the truth: “King’s sexually suggestive performance was a little raunchy. He pulled a sausage out of his snowsuit, and waved it in the air with one hand along with handcuffs and roses in the other. The women in attendance seemed to be enjoying the show.”
There is no argument to be made for telling a part of the story, and then posting along with that a video that raises questions about what didn’t get reported. That just adds to the reasons for readers to distrust reporters.
If reporters leave out key facts in silly, unimportant stories because they’re uncomfortable, what will they do with important facts in big stories that might get them in trouble with powerful people?
If there is any doubt about the general public perception here, look no further than the first comment beneath a link to the ADN story on the Talkeetna Bachelor Society Facebook page.
“”They left out the salami…” it says.
Pam Rannals, one of the organizers of the first Talkeetna bachelor auction, said she wasn’t sure what King had in his hand, and wasn’t sure how much of what happened – other than the succesful fund-raising effort – warranted much attention at all.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Let’s just keep it a stuffed animal. It was pretty hilarious the whole thing.”
Manning said there was indeed a stuffed animal that came out of the fly of King’s snowsuit.
“If memory serves, it was a moose,” he said.
His memory was much better as regards the sausage, the obvious highlight of the evening.
“I know he handed it to a woman afterward and she took a bite out of it,” Manning said, “or she appeared to take a bite out of it.”
There is a simple rule for reporters: That which you remember most is usually the most important part of the story – if there is a story at all. And the latter is worth a thought now and then. There are some things in society today that deserve to remain, if not private, at least reserved for the participants or social media.
Then again, the roles are changing everyday. Sometimes social media, or some of it, looks more like the old media, and sometimes the old media acts more like social media.