The Anatomy of a Stunt

Writing at National Review, Byron York recounts the story behind the recent incident where a left-wing activist was tackled at a George Allen campaign event after asking a question about the senator's ex-wife:

The question might not make much sense to anyone who hasn’t kept up with both the race between Allen and Democrat James Webb and the commentary of the left-wing blogosphere. If you have kept up, you know that left-wing bloggers have been agitating for the release of the records from Allen’s divorce from his first wife, Anne. There is a rumor among those bloggers that the records will reveal an allegation that Allen spit on Anne Allen, and the bloggers have been angry that press outlets have not reported the story.

Last week, when the Allen campaign pointed to sexually exotic passages in Webb’s novels, some of those bloggers saw an opportunity. On Thursday, Josh Marshall, of TalkingPointsMemo, wrote that Allen had crossed some sort of line by “mining Jim Webb’s novels for sex scenes.”

“If Allen really wants to play rough,” Marshall wrote, “maybe it’s time for some Democrats to start going on the shows and asking about that sealed divorce records of Allen’s. All those reporters have a pretty good idea of what’s in there. But Sen. Allen (R-VA) just won’t agree to let them see it.”

Just to make his point perfectly clear to anyone plugged in to the story, Marshall added: “It’s almost like [Allen] is spitting in their face.”

That’s where Mike Stark came in. His bit of theater with Allen in Charlottesville got wide coverage. And in today’s Washington Post, sure enough, Stark succeeded in getting the spitting rumor into print. “W. Michael Stark, who identified himself in an e-mail after the incident as a University of Virginia law student, yelled a question at Allen about whether he had ever spit on his first wife, an unsubstantiated charge that has been circulating on liberal blogs on the Internet,” the paper reported.

“On the video, Stark was heckling Allen about rumors that embarrassing material is contained in records from the senator’s divorce,” the paper continued. “Those records have been sealed by a judge and are not accessible. Allen’s current wife, Susan, is his second and the mother of his children.”

“Allen aides accused Democrats and the Webb campaign of orchestrating the event as a way of getting news organizations to write about the Internet rumor.”

Mission accomplished. The spitting story is now officially in circulation. The incident shows what a dedicated activist — no longer a prankster — can do, with a little brazenness and a willing press. Stark is delighted, as are his supporters at the DailyKos. No doubt they’ll give him more money, if he asks for it. And why not? With a good plan, and his friends at the DailyKos, there’s no telling what he can accomplish.

Just when you thought the media couldn't go any lower in the Virginia Senate race, they find a way to surprise.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013