Yellow Journalism Rules as Tensions Rise in Tucson Over TUSD and MAS Program

Jul 6, 2012
12:29 AM

This week, the Tucson Unified School District, which gained national attention when TUSD school board member Michael Hicks appeared on "The Daily Show" to discuss why the board had decided to suspend the district's Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, held another public board meeting this past Monday. The official accounts from local news outlets chronicled pretty basic information about a shift in the MAS program:

The appointment of TUSD's new Mexican American Student Services director was made with little backlash Monday as a crowd of program supporters sat quietly in the Governing Board meeting room. Maria Figueroa was voted in 4-1, with board member Adelita Grijalva dissenting.

"I continue to oppose the changes that have been made to Mexican American Studies – the elimination of courses and the change in direction that appointing this director will make in this department," Grijalva said.

Changes to the department specify that it no longer administer courses – which were found to be in violation of state law – and instead focus on supporting Hispanic students to eliminate disparities in achievement, discipline, special education placement, grade retention and placement in special programs.

However, in the world of online Tucson, there is a contradicting (and poorly reported) story from the Arizona Daily Independent (ADI) claiming that Hicks was assaulted by Sean Arce, the former director of the MAS program, inside the school building where the meeting took place on Monday evening.

A video from The Three Sonorans blog includes footage of the Monday meeting at the end of a 17-minute video of events surrounding the first two days of Freedom Summer 2012, a movement in Tucson that is calling attention to the issues surrounding TUSD and Tucson. In the interest of setting the background for this post, we created a video of the Three Sonorans clips chronicling the Monday protests at the TUSD board meeting and the confrontation between Hicks and protesters. Here it is:

Hiding behind a loose form of "independent journalism" that would make even Breitbart sound like a Pulitzer Prize winner, today the ADI's story was shared on Facebook by Tucson conservative radio talk show host Garret Lewis. Within minutes of posting the following public Facebook post, one person was already calling out Lewis for sharing such a highly inaccurate and biased story. The news about such a false report began to spread.

Under the headline: "TUSD board meeting 'storm' protest fizzles," the ADI story proceeded to pretty much violate every basic tenet of journalism and embarrassed any journalist who believes in solid independent fact-checking and reporting. Let's just say that we cringed when we read it. Journalism 101 is not that hard to learn and independent journalists should try to practice it more often.

Here is an excerpt of the report. (Note: the original "report" by the ADI did not include the detailed video footage by The Three Sonorans, which eventually was added to the end the post. We are wondering if the ADI poster even saw the video before filing story.)

Former Mexican American Studies Director, Sean Arce accompanied by a group of about 15 college age and older adults set upon TUSD Governing Board member Michael Hicks during a recess in the meeting of the district’s governing Board.

A video by a racist blogger known as the Three Sonorans clearly shows Arce with Hicks inside the building as Hicks was returning to the meeting.

According to various sources, Arce confronts Hicks and chest bumped him while insulting Hicks. Hicks stood his ground, while security looked on. At the time, Arce questioned Hicks’ intelligence while stupidly assaulting Hicks a second time. Hicks did not seek the assistance of security, and will not press charges against the 6’4’ former college football player.

During the takeover of he board meeting last spring, Arce assaulted a member of the public twice. Charges were not pressed against Arce in an effort to keep already high tensions from getting higher according to the victim.

The Board voted 4-1 last night to hire Maria Figueroa, former principal at Toleson, to replace the controversial Arce. Adelita Grijalva was the dissenting vote.

The district opted to not renew Arce’s contract as the Director of the MAS program last spring. Instead they offered him another position in the district, but he refused to accept the offer.

According to various sources, a group of thugs or “protesters” were planning a “storm.” They hurled epithets and accusations at Hicks during the “peaceful” protest.

Participants in the “storm” had brought water bottles into the boardroom. It is believed that the protest was called off when Hicks began taking pictures of the wannabe “storm” from his position at the dais.

Again, we are wondering if ADI (and Lewis) even saw the Three Sonorans video. Was it clear that a "6’4’ former college football player" had chest bumped Hicks (even at 4:35 of the video that we produced, there is no clear evidence of anything)? Did they not see the security guards and Tucson police with Hicks and the protesters? Did they not hear what Hicks was saying? Also, we are still wondering where the "thugs" are in the video?

Were people shouting? Yes. Were people cursing? Yes. But the question for us is very simple: why did Hicks come out there in the first place? From the video we saw, the protesters were indeed angry (it was a public meeting that they were not allowed to attend and there were barricades and armed police), but they got much angrier when Hicks showed up. Why did Hicks even show up? What was he trying to prove?

Lewis spent part of his Thursday show basing his "facts" on the ADI story. The following podcast covers his thoughts, starting around the 14-minute mark.

It seems like we are not the only ones who are questioning Lewis' false report. Tucson Weekly also wrote about the incident: 

…local right-wing media want you to know something else about Tucson Unified School District board member Michael Hicks — he was assaulted by former Mexican-American studies students, teachers and supporters at the TUSD special board meeting, Monday, July 2.

However, that's is a complete lie. Loretta Hunnicutt's Arizona Daily Independent and KNST's Garret Lewis described an incident between Hicks and MAS supporters that absolutely didn't happen.

They are right about one thing — Tucson Police Department officers working security during the meeting stood by, escorted him outside and stood right next to Hicks as he took a break to taunt students…

Before the special meeting started, MAS supporters were there as part of a Freedom Summer kick-off — a month long project with events and actions led by organizers and Chicano studies professors from Michigan. Organizers and artists from across the country are spending their July in Tucson for actions and other programs in support of MAS. This support also includes canvassing specific neighborhoods to engage voters on TUSD board elections and MAS.

During an executive session, Hicks walked out and stood on the wheelchair ramp that put him above the students and supporters. Some students chanted Rosa Clarks, and Hicks began to taunt students and jeer at them, while TPD officers stood by.

As Hicks went inside, he turned back to taunt students one more time. Inside, former MAS director Sean Arce told Hicks that the people he was making fun of are his constituents and he invited Hicks to sit down for a conversation away from the cameras and crowd. Sean never threatened him or pushed his chest into Hicks — although Hicks wagged his finger and looked like he was about to do more.

However, this morning, Arce or others aren't talking about pressing charges against Hicks for attempted assault or assault. Take a look at the Three Sonorans video. Toward the end, you see video of what occurred outside the admin building and it ends with a photo that captures what took place. You can see more of what took place that night right here. Thugs? Who are the real thugs here?

I have a call out to School Safety & Security Director Jeff Coleman, as well as TPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Maria Hawke asking why Hicks was allowed and escorted outside to taunt students and supporters? I'm also waiting for Hicks to respond to an e-mail asking why he claims he was assaulted that night.

So, yes, right now in Tucson, up is down and down is up. In the meantime, it is clear that tensions continue to rise, and misinformation is trying to be communicated to the public. There is no real journalistic proof that ADI's account is correct. In fact, it is just one account of one person who didn't even do basic journalism (get two sources, get a quote, talk to the people being accused and those who are making the accusations). That is not how you report real events, especially when so much is at stake.

We also reached out to both Hicks and TUSD today comment. If they respond to us, we will share their responses.