Many people believe a 10News report broadcast at 5 p.m. on September 12 deliberately misinformed the public.
On September 10, the Sweetwater Union High School District held a special meeting with an ambiguous agenda that suggested controversial interim superintendent Ed Brand would be awarded a contract. After several hours of deliberation, the board had nothing to report to the public.
Approximately 20 speakers addressed the board prior to the special closed-session meeting. When Kathleen Cheers, a community advocate, gave her speech to the board, she pointed out that the trustees had forgotten to do the pledge of allegiance. About 15 minutes later, board member John McCann requested a pledge of allegiance. The audience laughed.
“They were laughing at Mr. McCann’s opportunism,” said Cheers in a September 12 interview. 10News quoted Stewart Payne, a member of Occupy Sweetwater, explaining the laughter as well: "The moans and groans you hear aren't about the Pledge of Allegiance. They're about John McCann making it about himself again.”
Nevertheless, 10News told the story differently. “Disrespectful laughter at the flag and victims of 9/11,” said news anchor Kim Hunt, leading into the story. “10News has obtained an audio recording of a recent local school board meeting where the crowd appears to laugh at a request to say the pledge and a moment of silence for 9/11…. Joe Little tracked down the people in the audience to get their take on the audiotape,” said Hunt, perhaps inadvertently suggesting the tape’s provenance was dubious.
The newscast included a four-second audio clip of McCann’s request being met by laughter. Before introducing the sound bite, 10News reporter Joe Little told the TV audience, “During the meeting, trustee John McCann realized the board forgot to say the pledge of allegiance.” Joe Little was not in attendance at the meeting.
Whether or not 10News had a recording of the entire meeting — including Cheers’s comment about the pledge being forgotten prior to McCann’s request for the pledge — is unknown.
Payne, a Sweetwater parent and one of the five people who took corruption charges to the district attorney’s office, sent the following message to Joe Little upon viewing the report: “I have watched the [10News] story of the board meeting held at SUHSD on Monday. While I feel the story was fairly reported, it is based on inaccurate and misleading information….”
Payne, who is one of those accused of disrespecting the flag, rarely speaks of his military career. He served 21 years in the Marines, was in three combat zones, and retired as a sergeant major.
Following the 10News report, late on September 12, Sweetwater board member Bertha Lopez phoned Little, requesting that he retract his story due to the erroneous context presented. She emailed him today to follow up. As of late afternoon September 13, Little had not responded to Lopez’s messages or two phone calls left by this reporter. McCann’s cell-phone mailbox was full, so a request for comment could not be recorded.