Stark, Raving

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Guerilla blogger Mike Stark comments on my write-up of his panel at Yearly Kos. Short introduction: Stark is a blogger who got noticed calling up right-wing radio hosts and baiting them to embarrass themselves, and then he got famous for getting tackled by Sen. George Allen's security detail for yelling "Did you spit on your first wife?" at a press availability. His explanation: The media weren't covering possible scandals in Allen's divorce records. In March he attended CPAC, disguised with glasses and a beard, and got his picture taken with some much-loathed (on the left, at least) conservatives. Last week he went to Bill O'Reilly's home, posting signs mocking his sexual harrassment scandal and walking onto O'Reilly's driveway to film him.

Stark says he didn't understand this point:

"I think when the mainstream media get a story," said Mr Stark, "they think: 'Is this interesting to Homer Simpson?'" In other words, is a story simple enough to appeal to stupid people? That obviously clashed with Mr Stark's argument that the media are too wimpy to ask hard questions of Republicans, as his George Allen smackdown got national attention. "The only thing I regret was that instead of saying 'Sen. Allen, did you ever spit on your wife,' I should have shouted 'Sen. Allen, tell us about your arrest records."

Stark's right that the coverage of his smackdown actually proved his point: For a few days the national media was more interested in whether "George Allen's goons tackled a heckler" than the vagaries of Allen's record. Ironically, before Stark's stunt, they had been reporting on that, if just not as much as Stark wanted them to. Like I wrote in my post about the panel, reporter Jonathan Kaplan got Stark to admit that Ryan Lizza's cutting expose of Allen got the rest of the national media to question Allen's racial views and his judgment in May of 2006, almost six months before the Stark-Allen dustup.

But I didn't blog all of Stark's response to Kaplan. "I don't want to take anything away from Ryan Lizza," he said, and he claimed that Lizza's piece was the basis for his activism. Well, sort of. The "Allen spit on his wife" story didn't come from Lizza's piece but from an October 19 piece about Mark Warner, where Lizza wrote that there was "a story that had been making the rounds about how this politician," an unnamed "08 contender," "once spit on his wife." Lizza didn't say who the rumor was about and specified that it was a rumor. Stark thought it was a fair question to ask Allen—more than that, that all reporters should have been demanding an answer from Allen.

So, yeah, there's a contradiction here. Stark decries the way that the media covers salacious stories and avoids complicated stories. But the story he wanted to the media to cover in 2006 was a rumor about a politician's nasty failed marriage. Yes, Stark told me that if reporters hung together and all asked tough questions then they couldn't be alienated, but the reporters who cover complicated issues and process stories would lose their access if they asked about unfounded rumors. Deservedly so. If a reporter wanted to ask that question he'd check out the rumor first, interviewing anyone who would know about it and then going to Allen when they had a story for him to confirm or deny.

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  1. I think that in addition to the “media doesn’t cover complicated stories” issue, there are other problems with media coverage in general.

    This whole thing with Allen’s divorce is an example: among “salacious” stories, there’s a sort of media hive mind that makes a determination about what salacious stories are going to be covered and what ones aren’t, and does so in a fairly arbitrary fashion. For example, the media still wants to talk about the Clinton marriage, but until recently has essentially given Giuliani a pass on his lifelong serial adultery and the parade of homewreckers he calls wives. I can understand when activists get angry about the discrepancy.

    My personal beef with media coverage is that its fundamental structure enables statism. But that’s a problem that goes well beyond the story choices of any particular reporter, editor or organization so you can’t really be a gadfly about it the way Stark has been.

  2. Spark: OMG the MSM is not covering what I want to watch! Dumbing down stories for the lowest common denominator. Stuped red state rednecks, don’t know what’s good for them, goddammned FAUX NEWS RUPERT MURDOCH RAWR!!!!

    Now excuse me. I have a golden shower story to research.

  3. Is it me, or is Weigel just shilling for Big Spit?

  4. A clever man would have asked “When did you stop spitting on your first wife?”

  5. Stark is not a journalist but a muckraker.

  6. Good journalists can be muckrakers. The term is not necessarily an insult.

  7. Stark is such an ass. He complains about the dumming down of the media, then asks some stupid question about whether or not Allen spit on his wife. Why not ask him about his blind support for the war or the PATRIOT Act instead, wouldn’t that be more serious and less interesting to “Homer Simpson”?

  8. “So, yeah, there’s a contradiction here. Stark decries the way that the media covers salacious stories and avoids complicated stories. But the story he wanted to the media to cover in 2006 was a rumor about a politician’s nasty failed marriage. Yes, Stark told me that if reporters hung together and all asked tough questions then they couldn’t be alienated, but the reporters who cover complicated issues and process stories would lose their access if they asked about unfounded rumors. Deservedly so. If a reporter wanted to ask that question he’d check out the rumor first, interviewing anyone who would know about it and then going to Allen when they had a story for him to confirm or deny.”

    Not sure if you saw the comment I left in the Economist post, but in case not, here it is again…

    two points: first, the media has no problem digging into salacious stories if it’s Bill Clinton… and just about every story that’s done on public corruption seems to equate Democratic corruption to Republican corruption in terms of depth and breadth… it’s really ridiculous…

    as far as reporting the rumor – I can just about guarantee you that nobody hs come to Charlottesville to dig into the Allen/abuse story… The man was seen as a future presidential candidate – and if he hadn’t been derailed, probably would be leading the pack right now – but nobody came here and talked to the tens of people that have told me his wife was hospitalized repeatedly as a result of his beatings… Nobody put my question into the context of his own sister’s book…

    that’s why i think the arrest record question would have been much better. It was a public record – the press could not have called it a rumor…

    but the press never dug into what he was arrested for either, so… I dunno…

  9. One more thing: the media did begin reporting the n-word allegations, but only after I asked if he had ever used the word, which came several weeks after the Macaca incident…

    even then, the reporter that actually did the digging came from Salon – hardly a bastion of the MSM. In other words, even after MAcaca, no large media organization saw fit to start looking into Allen’s background – none of them even put Macaca side by side with the confederate flag, noose and pics of Allen sharing the floor w/white supremacists…

    But Dave… you aren’t really trying to argue that we have a free and fully functioning adversarial press, are you?

    I see Bill Kristol on my TV every week, several times… What war critic (aside from Olbermann) do you see on your tv with such regularity?

    Look up the Rendon Group… Then tell me: is it a story when the CIA pays over $100 million to create the INC and Ahmed Chalabi… when they peddle fake intelligence that leads this country to war and gets nearly 4,000 kids killed (and counting)? Why was this only reported in Rolling Stone?

    C’mon down off that perch you’re on Dave… You know the media’s riddled with ulcers where accountability used to be and raging tumors of ego that have them always looking for the next invitation to the next really cool cocktail party…

    turn away from it all, start swilling cheap scotch and smoking cheap cigars, let the sweat from your armpits soak through your wrinkled shirt and go get a story that isn’t mouth-fed to you by some political crook that chortles at the way he played you the minute you’re out of earshot….

  10. Hey, Mike, I thought you had better things to do, you know, like informing everyone that Bill O’Reilly was a purveyor of opinion rather than hard news. Fox News is still operating; you have precious time to waste on this website. Go forth, you tireless crusader for news that fits only your worldview.

    P.S. You should have an E emblazoned on your chest. It could stand for ego, because, damn, yours is huge.

  11. So, Mike, you don’t have a problem with “Homer Simpson” stories as long as a Democrats get to use them to their advantage, too. Way to elevate the debate there pal.

  12. Stark is truly a left-wing icon, and one of the best of their reporters. He asks the tough questions that DK readers care about, and the ones they can understand.

    Meanwhile, it’s left to others to ask trivial questions about actual policy like this:

    youtube.com/watch?v=Q_l4Lawj14A

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