As Media Matters for America noted, in a January 28 article, The New York Times' Ian Urbina reported that a protestor spit “at the ground near” Cpl. Joshua Sparling, a wounded Iraq war veteran, during the January 27 anti-Iraq war protest in Washington, D.C. But the article offered no details regarding the alleged incident, giving rise to several unanswered questions, which Media Matters laid out. Sparling appeared on the January 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends and gave his own version of the events, contradicting some aspects of the Times' reporting.
On January 28, the Times reported that “one of the antiwar protestors spit at the ground near Mr. Sparling; he spit back,” and quoted Sparling saying of the protesters: “These are not Americans as far as I'm concerned.” As Media Matters noted, Urbina did not cite Sparling as his source on the incident and simply asserted that it occurred, suggesting that he had witnessed it. On Hannity & Colmes, Sparling offered details, claiming that a man wearing an 82nd Airborne badge was one of several people who spit at him, and he asserted, contrary to the Times report, that he did not spit back at the protester. Sparling also “clarif[ied]” his quote from the Times article, claiming that he was referring to just “the vulgar people.”
Sparling's contrary version gives rise to still further questions about the Times' account: Will the Times stand by its reporting? Will the Times offer its own details about the alleged spitting incident? Did Urbina or any other Times staffer see the other people Sparling claimed spit at him? Will the Times further investigate the matter? These questions are important not just because this whole scenario echoes the apocryphal claims that Vietnam veterans were spit upon when they returned to the United States, but because conservative media figures and bloggers have already absorbed Sparling's accusations as fact, and are repeating and embellishing them. For example, the right-wing weblog Flopping Aces claimed that what it described as the “peace' movement” has "[a]n ideology and reality that spits on those who have sacrificed themselves for this country."
From the January 29 edition of Hannity & Colmes:
SPARLING: What we were doing, actually, was doing the anti-protest protest, and we were there with our flags, and all that happened was a fella saw me wearing my 82nd Airborne sweater, and I noticed he also had an 82nd patch on his own sleeve, and he said I was a disgrace, basically, and that I was -- that I had blood on my hands and that I had no right wearing the uniform, and he spit at me.
ALAN COLMES (co-host): And you spit back?
SPARLING: Of course I did not.
COLMES: That's what was reported. That did not happen?
SPARLING: No sir, it did not.
COLMES: But this was directed specifically at you as far as -- [Fox News Radio host] Griff [Jenkins], were you there? Did you witness this?
COLMES: Joshua, I understand that last spring you were demeaned in an airport when you were told you couldn't board a plane? You got a hate letter at Walter Reed in 2005. Why do you think this always happens to you?
SPARLING: To tell you the truth, Alan, I really couldn't know. The people that have done these things I don't even know personally, so it couldn't be of a personal nature in the first place. Maybe it's because I -- the peace rally is an obvious one. I went there, and that was the most angry peace march that I've ever witnessed, that's for sure. And he wasn't the only person to spit at me either. There was others, but this fella here was actually on the sidewalk with me, whereas all the other ones were about 10 yards away on the other side of the road, and they weren't just spitting. They were throwing cigarette butts, they were flipping us off.
COLMES: Hey, Josh, I'm glad you're getting better. I have just one question. It was said in the press you said, “These are not Americans as far as I'm concerned.” Did you say that, and were you referring to the people spitting or anybody who was demonstrating against the war?
SPARLING: Oh, no, actually, that was just for the vulgar people, let me clarify something here.
On the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends, Sparling did not address the alleged spitting incident but claimed he was “not going to judge all of” the protesters, and that a “couple of folks actually were waiting for clubs to meet with me after it was over with, and the police had to stop them from bull-rushing us on the sidewalk.”
From the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): And you lost your leg, Joshua, and still, despite your own physical travails, you wanted to go out there and get your -- you got the megaphone, we've seen some of the footage. What were the people saying to you there for the alleged peace rally as you told them, essentially, that the war was right and should be finished?
SPARLING: Well, you know, I think I've seen more fingers that day than I've ever seen in my whole life. But, yeah, they basically told me that -- you know, at first they were all about the veterans, and then when I claimed I was a veteran they said, “Well, you should have stayed in Iraq,” and, “You're just a murderer,” and, “You have blood on your hands,” they don't know how I sleep at night. You know, that kind of propaganda there.
KILMEADE: And you said you're kind of glad your unit is deployed so they don't have to see this. You're with the 82nd Airborne.
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Joshua, after having been to that peace rally, what's your impression of those people?
SPARLING: Well, you know, obviously I'm not going to judge all of them, because it wasn't everybody, and there was a couple of peaceful people that actually just walked by. But for the most part, there was just people lining the fence just screaming and jumping over it trying to get at us. A couple of folks actually were waiting for clubs to meet with me after it was over with, and the police had to stop them from bull-rushing us on the sidewalk.
Following Sparling's appearance on Fox & Friends, during which he proposed marriage on the air to his girlfriend, Kilmeade stated affirmatively that protesters were “spitting on” him -- even though Sparling claimed he was “spit at,” not “spit on”:
DOOCY: By the way, if you'd like to send an email to the happy couple, send it to email@example.com, and we will pass it along to the future Sparlings.
KILMEADE: Especially if you have a different view from those who were spitting on him and cursing at him over the weekend.