Viewers object after KREM cuts Kevorkian segment
By Paul Sciuchetti
A majority of the callers were angry that the previously advertised segment on the infamous suicide doctor was replaced with local news.
The controversial segment showed Kevorkian injecting a terminally ill man with a lethal dose of drugs. In cities where the story was broadcast, viewers watched the actual death of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I’ve never done this before,” said KREM president and general manager Barry Barth, who made the decision locally with executive news director Tamara Lehman.
“The last thing we want to do is be censors,” Barth said, “(but) we have a policy at KREM of not showing the termination of life on broadcasts.”
Barth said he first heard about the segment Friday. He asked CBS officials if he could view it in advance. He also asked CBS if KREM could edit out the 83 seconds of tape showing the three injections and the death, which occurred in September.
CBS declined both requests.
Kevorkian, who has acknowledged helping about 120 people commit suicide, has been acquitted of assisted suicide in three trials; a fourth ended with a mistrial.
In past cases, Kevorkian has said his clients voluntarily activated his homemade devices that delivered the carbon monoxide or intravenous chemicals that caused their death. With Youk’s death, Kevorkian moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia.
Barth didn’t get to see the actual segment until 7 p.m. Sunday. Viewing it, he said, reinforced his belief that he had made the right decision.
Viewers, some of whom had seen promos of the Kevorkian segment earlier in the day during NFL football coverage, began calling minutes after a taped announcement by Barth about the preemption.
About 70 percent disagreed with the preemption, said Barth.
“I wanted to hear what he had to say,” said a Spokane woman, who called KREM and the newspaper to complain. “I really wanted to formulate my own opinion.”
Instead, the woman said, “Someone else made the choice that it wasn’t appropriate for me.”
Barth said KREM tried to block out all the previews of the Kevorkian segment, but a few got through. The station doesn’t know the exact timing of all previews during live events.
He said he wished CBS would have given local stations more flexibility to preview the sensitive story and air the parts they felt comfortable with.
He insisted the Inland Northwest’s demographics and generally conservative nature did not influence his decision.
The timing – 7 p.m. – and the fact that a living human was shown being killed by a lethal injection forced him to make the difficult decision, he said.
“We (just) weren’t interested in showing the moment of death,” he said.
Barth returned more than a dozen calls left by viewers on his personal answering machine Sunday night.
Monday, November 23, 1998