UniteHere, the union that represents some 6500 hotel, gaming, and food-service workers in San Diego County’s hospitality industry, has never been shy about flexing its political muscles. When the Chargers developed Measure C for a downtown convadium last year, UniteHere’s Local 30 said it organized some 600 employees from Petco Park, the San Diego Convention Center, Del Mar Racetrack, and the rest of the 18 union properties to fire up the effort’s largest rally.
But is UniteHere a big player — or even the mastermind — behind the so-called Calexit, a curious effort to break away from the rest of the United States and make California its own nation? That’s what viewers of Tucker Carlson Tonight, which airs on the Fox News Network, were led to believe earlier this month.
Tucker Carlson intervew with Shankar Singam of California Freedom Coalition
“The United States may be losing a star from its flag for the first time ever. That's what activists in the state of California want,” Carlson said as a photo of an unfurled UniteHere banner, held aloft by a group of rank-and-file, appeared in the top-right corner of the screen with the words “Calexit Movement” superimposed on top.
Moments later, the camera zoomed in, Ken Burns–like, on the banner’s union logo as Carlson described the urgency of campaigners to gather the required number of signatures by early next year.
Support from UniteHere (which has seven chapters statewide and claims to be the first union to support Barack Obama’s candidacy in the 2008 election) would be a huge feather in the cap of the movement looking for its first major endorsement. But both the union and Calexit groups agreed: the suggestion of an alliance is one big Fox News misfire.
Brigette Browning, president of the county’s Local 30, said she had no idea how or why Fox connected the union to the state independence effort. Browning said she is also a member of the union’s state council, where such issues would be deliberated.
“I would say I was puzzled,” Browning said in an email upon learning of the Fox piece, “since I knew the union had not taken a position on Calexit.”
Nationwide, UniteHere has taken positions Fox viewers would no doubt find distasteful. In Arizona, for example, the union in 2012 launched “Adios Arpaio,” an election campaign against since-convicted Republican Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio that drew positive coverage from Fox rival MSNBC. According to the union’s website, the campaign inspired more than 4000 volunteers and registered 34,246 new voters.
But Browning said she knows of no previous misreporting or run-ins between the union and Fox News. She also didn’t recognize the photo used in the piece.
Neither did Steve Gonzales, president of the California Freedom Coalition, which supplied Carlson’s guest, Shankar Singam, for the installment. Gonzales said he confirmed Singam has no connections to UniteHere.
Gonzales said he didn’t supply the photo and never told Fox News that UniteHere had anything to do with Calexit.
“I gave [show producers] a plethora of information on the [California Freedom Coalition] before the interview took place, of course, they didn't even look at it,” Gonzales said in an email.
Fox also goofed by displaying graphics related to the group Yes California at the beginning of the story instead of California Freedom Coalition, Gonzales said; the two groups share no affiliation.
Contacted by email, Yes California also confirmed it has never claimed the support of UniteHere. “I do not know of any endorsement from this group that you mention,” Louis J. Marinelli, founder of the Yes California Independence Campaign, said in an email.
“Typical Fox News,” said Gonzales. “It's almost like a toddler was in control of the mouse and they just clicked on [whatever] they thought worked.”
Numerous messages to the network have gone unacknowledged, including a voice mail and several emails to Kelly McNally, whom Gonzales identified as the producer for the segment.