Questions for the NY Times about the alleged spitting incident during anti-war protest


On January 28, The New York Times reported, in an article by Ian Urbina, that, during the January 27 anti-war protest on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., an unnamed anti-war protester spat at the ground near Joshua Sparling, a wounded Iraq war veteran "who said he was a corporal with the 82nd Airborne Division." The Times reported that Sparling spat "back" and subsequently said of the protesters: "These are not Americans as far as I'm concerned." The Times gave no further details about the alleged incident, despite the politically charged nature of the allegations, which recall the apocryphal tales of Vietnam War veterans being spit on as they returned to the United States.

The Times reported:

There were a few tense moments, however, including an encounter involving Joshua Sparling, 25, who was on crutches and who said he was a corporal with the 82nd Airborne Division and lost his right leg below the knee in Ramadi, Iraq. Mr. Sparling spoke at a smaller rally held earlier in the day at the United States Navy Memorial, and voiced his support for the administration's policies in Iraq.

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.

Capitol police made the antiwar protestors walk farther away from the counterprotesters.

''These are not Americans as far as I'm concerned,'' Mr. Sparling said.

Conservatives have been telling stories of anti-war protesters spitting on returning Vietnam veterans for decades, even though, as College of the Holy Cross associate professor of sociology and anthropology Jerry Lembcke wrote in an April 30, 2005, Boston Globe op-ed, "[t]here is an element of urban legend in the stories." Nevertheless, Lembcke wrote, the "image of spat-upon veterans is the icon through which many people remember the loss of the war, the centerpiece of a betrayal narrative that understands the war to have been lost because of treason on the home front." The Times article has already been seized upon by right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin.

In the article, Urbina suggested that he witnessed the purported spitting incident since he did not attribute the report to Sparling or any other purported eyewitness. But the lack of detail in Urbina's report of the alleged incident gives rise to several questions:

  • Did Urbina or anyone else from the Times actually see the alleged incident?
  • Why does the Times' report fluctuate between ambiguity and certainty?

In reporting that the protester spit "at the ground near Mr. Sparling," Urbina left open the possibility that the protester -- if he or she did, in fact, spit -- may have not intended to spit at Sparling or anyone else. And how near was "near"? Six inches? Six feet? However, the very next phrase -- "he spit back" -- suggests that the protester did, in fact, spit at Sparling, and he was simply retaliating. Which is it?

  • Did Sparling actually spit on the protester?

The Times simply noted that he "spit back." Did he hit the protester? Could he have hit the protester? How far from one another were they?

  • What did this protester look like?

Male? Female? Old? Young? Tall? Short? Did the Times try to talk with the alleged spitter?

  • Can the Capitol Police confirm the incident?

Did the Times contact the Capitol Police? Was the alleged spitter detained or questioned?

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