A journalist generally isn't supposed to insert himself into the story. More specifically, a journalist isn't supposed to insert his fists into the story by way of a politician's face.

But so it was with the literal fistfight between Spokesman-Review journalist Joe Smith and Washington state Rep. James McArthur, from Spokane's 6th district.

"Smith swung and hit the legislator on the jaw, sending him to the floor," the Tacoma Times detailed in their article, "Fist Fights on Legislative Floor."

Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Camden elaborated on the context nearly a century later: With alcohol prohibition the big cultural lightning rod, much of the debate in 1909 centered on the 'local option' — whether cities and counties would be allowed to vote to ban alcohol within their boundaries.

The Spokesman-Review, back then, was a big fan of banning alcohol — while McArthur, a druggist, was a bit more skeptical on the issue. Tensions boiled over when, during a local option debate in the state legislature, McArthur accused Smith of misrepresenting him, and tried to grab at papers Smith had in his hand. That's when Smith swung, laying out McArthur.

But then Smith made a crucial mistake. He came back for his hat. That's when McArthur pounced, according to the Tacoma Times, evening "up matters by giving the newspaper man a black eye before the sergeant-at-arms restored order."

We're more civilized, today, of course. Journalists generally don't punch politicians, and with the margin of error of U.S. Sen. Greg Gianforte, politicians usually don't punch journalists.

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Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...