Pin It

Raise Standards 

If the stories about Mayor Jim West fit some kind of journalism standards, maybe we should reconsider them.

"I'm mad as hell, and I won't take it any more!" Remember that movie line? It came from the 1976 movie Network. William Holden was the TV news executive who considered journalism a profession of public service. Faye Dunaway was the entertainment executive who worshipped ratings.

Peter Finch played Howard Beal, an aging newsman having a nervous breakdown. Holden is trying to get his friend off the air and under psychiatric care. Then Dunaway notices the crazier Beal talks, the higher his ratings go. So she makes him a star. The movie ends when Beal turns his insane ranting against the network and they murder him. On the air, of course. Why waste the last gob of hormone pumping sensationalism that can be squeezed out of a human tragedy?

But that was just a movie.

Then came O.J. Simpson. Remember the coroner describing the examination of Nicole Simpson's body, with particular emphasis on the undressing? On every national network, over and over again, for days and days. Straight-faced commentators credited the continuous coverage with helping us better understand our judicial system.

Then Monica Lewinsky. The cute, chubby girl with the beret hugging the President. The cigar. What sex is. What "is" is. More civics lessons.

And the blood. Columbine High School. Oklahoma City. Princess Diana. The Washington D.C sniper. Don't get me started on the "Mother of All Media Orgies" — September 11, 2001.

Sex, blood, fear and guilt. We Americans seem to have insatiable appetites for them. Thanks to the Spokesman Review, Spokane residents can now wallow in their favorite pastime — right here in River City. Is Mayor Jim West guilty of more than an "unconventional" sex life? Are his accusers lying? Is there a dark plot by "unknown" powers? With an exciting summer like that in store, who needs Jerry Springer reruns?

In a democracy, the media does have a duty to inform citizens about official malfeasance. Citizens need such information to make informed voting decisions. Officials evidently also need the sword of public exposure over their heads to keep them in line.

But, information is not the same as continuous, blanket coverage, focused on the most prurient aspects of public misconduct. For example, as I write on Monday, the top two stories on the Spokesman-Review's front page concern whether Mayor West masturbated in his City Hall office.

Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith says he consulted an expert on journalistic ethical standards before proceeding with the West story. Good for him. I am not suggesting Smith, or anyone at the Review, violated standards of their profession.

It’s those standards that are the problem. Smith, along with other Spokane media leaders, should ask themselves a different question: Do we want to follow our profession into the gutter from whence came O.J. Simpson's bloody glove and Monica Lewinsky's semen-stained dress? Or are we brave enough to set a higher standard?

We in the public can help them make the right choice. Somewhere in this newspaper, there’s an article about something positive, or of real, long-term importance to our community. Read it. Then comment in the next letters column. Nothing increases coverage faster than evidence that the public is paying attention.

Don't have time? How about when you might otherwise be ogling the Michael Jackson "news" circus on TV? Or when you might be reading the latest issue of the Spokesman-Review -- the one with the screaming, prurient headline?

Robert Stokes is a retired college professor who lives in Spokane.

  • Pin It

Latest in Comment

  • Defending North Idaho
  • Defending North Idaho

    Why Heather Scott must go
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • How's That For Respect?
  • How's That For Respect?

    Trail Mix: Trump's respectful groping allegations and WA's minimum wage raise
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Accidents All Over
  • Accidents All Over

    This Congress is perhaps the least productive and worst reviewed since the Civil War; will anybody pay for that?
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science

Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 6

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Robert Stokes

  • Survival Strategy

    The Republican Party could rebound if it can attract the aspiring masses who don't like limits.
    • May 14, 2009
  • Can't We Just Get Along?

    Two wings of the Republican Party have negotiating to do.
    • Jul 18, 2008
  • Gang War

    Ask not how Republicans should win again. Ask "why."
    • Mar 27, 2008
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • To Kill the Black Snake
  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Spark of Change
  • Spark of Change

    Why Chris Hedges thinks we're ripe for revolution
    • Mar 4, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation