For the better part of a year starting in late 2005, San Francisco blogger Mr. Spocko waged a quiet campaign against right-wing talk radio station KSFO, 560 AM. He wrote to its sponsors and played for them explicit portions of the station's programming, such as shock jock Lee Rodgers's call for antiwar protesters to be "stomped to death ... just stomp their bleeping guts out."
The idea was to educate corporations about exactly what they were sponsoring, in the hope that Spocko's work might staunch the free flow of hateful rhetoric. He also posted these audio clips on his blog, Spocko's Brain. Several advertisers pulled their ads as a result of his campaign. But after MasterCard decided to cancel its KSFO spots in July 2006, Spocko said hostile commenters started to arrive on his blog and declare that he was in legal jeopardy.
"They said things like 'They're going to find you and sue you for everything you've got,' " Spocko told the Guardian by telephone, the only way he will be interviewed because of fears for his personal safety if people learn his true identity.
Spocko suspected people at the station were behind the threats and forged on with his campaign. Then, on Dec. 22, 2006, lawyers for KSFO's parent company, ABC a division of Disney sent Spocko's Internet hosting company a cease and desist letter. The letter asserted Spocko's clips of KSFO content were copyrighted material and demanded they be taken down from his site immediately. 1&1 Internet, the hosting company, not only complied but went one step further. It shut down Spocko's Brain.
That's when things got crazy.
Mike Stark a bare-knuckle liberal blogger who famously asked Sen. George Allen, the Virginia Republican who was ousted in the last election, if he ever spat on his wife took up Spocko's cause. Within days scores of like-minded bloggers had posted the KSFO audio clips on their own blogs, essentially daring Disney to come after all of them. By the first week of the new year, the mainstream media including USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times had gotten hold of the story.
Spocko's battle against KSFO took on the dimensions of a media turf war, with the right's traditional ally, talk radio, pitted against the new and largely left-wing online media. Spocko was suddenly and reluctantly famous, despite the fact that few actually know who he is. KSFO and Disney "made me a public figure," he told us. "[Now] in their mind I'm fair game."
Spocko cites right-wing hit pieces such as the book KSFO's Melanie Morgan wrote about Cindy Sheehan, American Mourning as examples of what happens to lefties who stick their necks onto the conservative-media chopping block. But he also fears something much worse than character assassination. He passed along an e-mail in which someone said he "sounds like a terrorist." Morgan and her fellow KSFO hosts regularly advocate harsh treatment for terrorists, to put it mildly.
"Morgan has told her one million members in Move America Forward [a prowar on terror 'charitable' organization that Morgan chairs] and all her listeners that I've smeared her, I've attacked her, I've threatened her security," he told us. "That's scary as hell."
Despite his professed fears, Spocko has held his ground. On Jan. 25 his lawyer, Matt Zimmerman, sent ABC a strongly worded letter demanding that it officially retract its cease and desist letter to Spocko's old hosting company. Zimmerman works at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which fights for people's online freedom.
"[ABC-Disney] were clearly in the wrong here," Zimmerman told us.