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king's ballCommentary

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.

The highlight?

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.

Obfuscation

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. 

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16 replies »

  1. Can you justify how, after mentioning that no one complained about King’s antics, and that the best you could judge from seeing images of King on stage is that some people looked “distracted,” you later state that his behavior “clearly did leave some people uneasy?” I can’t tell if you are complaining that some news outlets chose to cover just one aspect of the auction or that you think what King did somehow meets the definition of sexual harassment. You created news here where there was none, Craig.

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    • Jim: you need to go back and reread. King’s actions do not come close to sexual harassment because as Sara Sickler notes “the ladies that attend know what they are getting into. they are there to be entertained and expect some level of shenanigans.” you can’t walk into a strip club and then declare you were sexually harassed.
      but that the sausage left some people uneasy outside the room is clear in the evidence. reporters obviously didn’t report the sausage because they were uneasy about it. among Sickler’s first words to me were “worst things have happened.” she later emailed to say she didn’t think the sausage newsworthy.
      she was clearly a uneasy about a public mention of the sausage. and the unease of the media is obvious in its failure to honestly explain what caused the stir at the event. if they thought what went on there wasn’t fit for public discussion, they shouldn’t have dragged drips and drabs of the story out in public.
      there is nothing wrong with NOT doing a story because you decide it’s not in good taste.
      but if you’re going to write a news story, tell the damn truth.
      or maybe you want journalism that leaves out key facts. maybe you want journalists who are less than honest.
      that’s fine. then go read elsewhere.
      the most important fact here – the thing thing that got the attention of the women in the audience – was Jeff King pulling a sausage out of his pants and waving it around.
      i’ll be honest. if it was the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, i would have told the reporter to rewrite the story to leave out the details of King’s attempt to go “Fifty Shades of Grey.” i would have told someone to write a story about King putting on a risque act in a women-only gathering that helped raised $4,600 of the more than $23,000 dollars. and i would have spiked the video.
      maybe i’m a prude.
      but if one decides to go the other direction, you can’t go half in and suggest he caused a stir by pulling a “stuffed animal” animal out of his pants. he didn’t cause a stir by pulling a stuffed animal out of his pants. he pulled a salami out of his pants.
      to even hint that the excitement was about a stuffed animal is misleading. at that point, a journalist is stepping out of the news business into the propaganda business. at that point, a journalist is deliberately distorting what happened.
      and to then link it to a video that makes it clear you’ve misled readers, well that’s just mind bending.

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  2. Bravo, Craig, for saying “if a a story is judged newsworthy, tell the truth.” I suspect that the truth was hidden because the the story was about an Iditarod musher, Jeff King in this case.

    Far too often, the press fails to report on the abuse of Iditarod dogs. Part of the problem is that the Iditarod bans the media from going into dropped dog areas. Reports can’t can written and photos can’t be taken of sick, injured and exhausted dogs. It’s appalling that the press hasn’t complained about the ban.

    The media is responsible for turning Iditarod mushers into heroes at the expense of real athletes who actually do ALL the work. Mushers have admitted to sitting, lying down and sometimes sleeping while their dogs run over treacherous ground.

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    • Wow. You go right to “protecting mushing” without a shred of overt evidence nor even any rational logical connection? They reported on -King- playing it up on stage, note the “stuffed animal out of his pants” and “handcuffs” parts was reported. That doesn’t cover King in any sort of glory, were one the type to take offense at such things.

      All the media withheld was the part that might, in the eyes of the professionally offended anyway, reflect badly on -the event as a whole-. Particularly, as noted, given the times and the Fund being benefited.

      You can always tell a fanatic by their insistence on turning every event, however unrelated, into a chance to proselytize their pet cause.

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      • The media cherry-picked what it published. Again, I suspect it was because an Iditarod musher was involved. Or, maybe it was done because they like Jeff King.

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    • Lisbeth: it’s not about the Iditarod connection. i’m sure if Alaska Gov. Bill Walker or the Speaker of the House or an Alaska Olympic-bound athlete had gone to the auction and performed the King act it would have been covered in much the same way.
      and you have some facts wrong about Iditarod. the media doesn’t ban reporters from going into dropped dog areas. or at least they’ve never banned this reporter. i’ve been around a lot of dropped dogs over the years. most of them are just tired. the ones that are injured usually have the sorts of minor injuries i’ve seen with dogs at home
      but i have been around a few that were in crisis from accidents, and they got the kind of veterinary care that i’ve a few times i’ve wished i’ve had at my fingertips.

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  3. This shows how American society works these days. If a kooky old guy that lives in the woods dances around on a stage waving a salami … all is cool. But if the same thing was done by a politician or wealthy celebrity … then women would be swarming like piranhas and claiming past sexual harassment by the guy and that this action is proof. The war between sexes in our society is bizarre.

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    • If it was done by a politician or wealthy celebrity -at the Talkeetna Bachelor’s auction in front of a crowd of women who paid to attend a show that is well-known for such antics-? Context and precision matters. None of the cases in the press involve anywhere near similar contexts.

      But I agree that most nationally-known actual celebrities and politicians wouldn’t do a King act (setting aside their own personal feelings of appropriate behavior) simply for the reason that the audience and press coverage would be expanded to include people who would intentionally take the behavior out of context to manufacture outrage among the like-minded. Because heaven-forfend context and precision of thought occur when puerile tribal loyalties are on the line.

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      • Matthew: i know if it were me, i wouldn’t do it for all the reasons you mention. i don’t see anything wrong with what Jeff King did. the women put themselves in the room and were free to leave. he didn’t abuse power or trust, which is the real issue.
        i wouldn’t do it for all the reasons you mention. i have to admire King’s courage for being willing to put on such an act in these times.
        the journalists involved? well it’s kind of just the opposite, isn’t it? you think that act deserves public attention, but then you leave out the part that caught the attention of the audience? WTF?

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    • James: there is a key difference here. as Sara Sickler notes, the women put themselves in this situation. and what she failed to mention is obvious: there was no penalty for leaving. where sexual harassment enters the picture is in the work place or when they are physically confronted elsewhere.
      the biggest issue there is abusive bosses. the world is full of them. in this case, they were using their power to demean, intimidate,embarrass and take sexual advantage of women. see Weinstein, Rose, et al.
      and then we have those simply taking advantage of their power, alla Al Franken’s ass grabbing, to satisfy some bizarre sexual urge. they are predators preying on the weaker among us. they should have their nuts cut off.
      and if you’ve paying attention, this problem of people abusing their power is bigger than women. see Kevin Spacey and his attempts to leverage his star power to satisfy his pedophilia.
      the Talkeetna Bachelor Society auction is about none of that. it’s about journalistic whitewashing. the only remotely similar part is that the sexual harassment issues now being uncovered also, in some cases, involve journalistic whitewashing. there appear to have been journalists who knew of Spacey’s behavior, but it was never reported.
      there isn’t a lot of courage in the journalism business.

      Like

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