More Spittle

by digby

The Cincinnatti Beacon found that people are picking up the Joshua "Zelig" Sparling spitting story as proof of the terrible treatment of veterans. One is a Vietnam Vet who recovered memories of his own spitting incident back in the 70's. (The Beacon also found that his story doesn't exactly add up --- as usual.)

Even more interesting is that the Beacon coincidentally shot some footage of Sparling standing with the Freepers. If there was spit lobbed across the wide chasm between the two opposing groups, it was an award winning projectile gob, which makes this passage by the New York Times reporter especially suspicious:

Later, as antiwar protesters passed where he and his group were standing, words were exchanged and one of the antiwar protestors spit at the ground near Mr. Sparling; he spit back.

As I posted earlier, the Washington Post had what appears to be a slightly more accurate report of the incident (no spitting observed) and for some reason they scrubbed the passage from later versions of the story.

Joseph Hughes of the blog Hughes for America was at the march and came up close and personal with Sparling. He reported in my comments:

As someone who was at the CODEPINK event - here's my take on that and the march in general - and who saw Sparling up close and personal, I thought I'd weigh in. We were close to the front of the event because we were there early and my girlfriend wanted a good spot to take photos. Shortly after the event began, I noticed Sparling and his small group - himself, a woman wearing the same 82nd Airborne sweatshirt and another young man - push their way to the front. By the time they made their move, the crowd was packed pretty tight, so I don't see how they
could have made it so close (just to the left of the front) without some pushing.

When everyone would cheer a particular speaker, he first stood out by loudly booing. He would also give a thumbs down gesture to accompany those boos. One of the official speakers, a woman who formerly served in the armed forces, went over to him, and the two appeared to have a civil conversation. When a man who was taking pictures went over, Sparling appeared to be shouting in his face to move the camera. Later, when the female veteran spoke, she mentioned his service and our appreciation for it and there was a good round of applause. Nothing that would lead someone to characterize anyone as un-American.

I missed his impromptu speech because myself and my girlfriend were helping keep the CODEPINK protesters on the sidewalk as we marched to the full protest. That said, I sincerely doubt Sparling was treated with disrespect on our side of the street. (I didn't notice anyone on his side of the street barring a few curious folks who appeared to be taking pictures of the counter-protesters.) The worst I saw anyone from our side do in response to a counter-protester was throw up a fist or peace sign. When someone shouted, it wasn't profane. Now, on the other hand, Sparling's Freeper friends across the street had spent the better part of an hour holding up ridiculous signs like "Anti-American peaceniks think sedition is patriotic" and "We gave peace a chance. We got 9/11". Also, they hung an effigy of Jane Fonda.

These weren't friendly people. They were people looking to provoke a response. That they got it in the form of spitting, based on everything I saw Saturday, seems laughable on its face.

Before I even noticed Sparling's leg, I thought the kid was a right-wing plant in our group. I thought we were going to be marching, peacefully, and this kid would break a window or otherwise do something to make for an ugly scene, making what was actually a peaceful protest look anything but. It looked to me like he was taking great pains to stand out in what he was doing. For anyone to portray Sparling as an innocent actor in Saturday's events while making the CODEPINK attendees out to be a rabid mob boggles the mind. Our group was 90 percent women, including children and grandmothers. Half of the guys there didn't look like they could hurt a fly. I can safely say Sparling and his group showed up looking to start something, something
that, from the looks of your citations, appears to be a pattern.

I will repeat myself here, but it's important. I suspect that what's at work here is reflexive, lazy MSM he said/she said reporting where it was important to show "the other side" of the story of a peaceful protest. As usual, this lazy and inaccurate form of reporting worked to the benefit of the right, who in this case used a young man who is a celebrity rightwing victim of numerous alleged lefty slurs to tell a mythic story. I expect this from Fox News. It's a big problem when it's the paper of record.

But there's an even bigger problem. Dave Niewert and others have done a lot of writing over the past few years about rightwing eliminationist rhetoric and subterranean groups like militias and how their poison seeps into the mainstream. The mainstream media have failed to pick up on this pernicious social and political trend. Instead they are still mired in the stereotypes of 35 years ago, which we saw this week-end are pretty stooped and grey these days. They need to turn their attention to their right.

In this instance you had a budding rightwing operative who sat with the Vice President's wife at the State of the Union address appearing with a group that hanged Jane Fonda in effigy in the middle of a peaceful protest march. The signs they held were violent, crude and purposefully provocative. Yet the mainstream media, in looking for some frisson of 60's street violence, reports it as if the protesters are the provacateurs. They had the story and they completely missed it.

The fact is that the people who are challenging social norms and mainstream behavior are not coming from the left today --- they are coming from the right. They are clever and well financed and they are being helped not just by their own rightwing media infrastructure --- the allegedly liberal NY Times and Washington Post are also helping them with their knee-jerk assumptions and phony narratives.

Update: How surprising. The AP is quoting Sparling too. No mention of hanging Jane Fonda in effigy.

Update II: Pictures of Sparling (identified as a colonel) at the protest were also picked up by World Picture News. Who's this guy's press agent? John McCain should hire him.