Stark, Raving


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.