Rainy Day Weathers Attention Over Spitting Incident

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Jane Fonda wasn't the first controversial author that Rainy Day Books has featured at an author event, and she certainly won't be the last, but the Fairway, Kansas, bookstore may be hard pressed to host another event that garners the same amount of media attention.

Michael A. Smith, a former Marine and a Vietnam Vet, angered over Fonda's 1972 visit to Hanoi, spit tobacco juice at the actress during the Rainy Day-sponsored event at the Unity Temple in Kansas City on April 19 -- a "two minute disruption," said store co-owner Vivien Jennings, that garnered international media attention and, afterwards, a slew of negative e-mails and calls directed at the store and its owners.

"[Smith's actions] were disruptive, but literally for two minutes," said Jennings, who stressed that Fonda did not miss a beat after the incident and carried on with the book signing. "Overall, the effect was very minimal and the only reason it made a blip on the [media] radar screen was because he was arrested afterwards."

Nonetheless, the incident was reported worldwide and stirred emotions of people everywhere. "We received a lot of hateful e-mail and calls. One said, 'You're a blood-sucking capitalist, you just wanted the money!'" Jennings reported, though she stressed she also received positive e-mails, including some from Marines who said they were embarrassed over Smith's actions.

Jennings noted that it's unfortunate when anyone resorts to violence in answer to a political disagreement. "[Smith] didn't communicate anything -- it was ineffective except to give him his 15 minutes of fame."

And while the incident prompted minor concerns over upcoming events, Jennings told BTW that it would not influence her decisions about future author appearances. She explained that she hires a security firm for the more controversial personalities like Fonda and will continue to do so in the future. "We have had Newt Gingrich here under death threats; we had security for Hillary Clinton and for Karen Hughes.... We've had protestors before, and had over 300 author events last year and this is a first," she said.

To help booksellers respond to unfavorable public reaction to controversial authors such as Fonda, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression offers a "Statement on Author Appearances at Bookstores." Booksellers can post the statement to clarify and stress the crucial role that bookstores play in upholding First Amendment rights, or they can use it as a source for talking points when responding to the media. To download the statement in PDF format, click here. --David Grogan