A Hex on ABC News

This week several readers sent a story suggestion, and it’s a pretty outrageous story: a school accused a 15-year-old student of “putting a hex” on a teacher, making him ill. The assistant principal brought the girl in for “aggressive interrogation” and then suspended her for 15 days. No, this wasn’t in Salem in the late 1600s, but rather “modern” Oklahoma. The link was to a page on ABC News, and it was the same link from each reader.


The first thing I noticed when I clicked the link was that it was dated October 28. And only October 28 — no year is shown, as is the case on a lot of older stories on ABC’s web site.

The story looked pretty familiar, too: it was in This is True …in November 2000! That’s right: the story is more than 13 years old. Hell, it was a TV movie way back in 2006 — which fact I happened to have researched when I was putting Volume 7 of the This is True book series together. (I love updating stories when publishing the books if I think it will be interesting, and in this case it definitely was.)

Clearly, the story was going around on social media to be sent to me three times in one day. At least the readers had found it on a credible news site, but it’s downright criminal for a credible news site to not properly date its articles.

ABC includes the year on their stories now, but they have not gone back to fix old articles. They should be ashamed of not including such a key fact in any news story ever. It’s a basic lesson from the first year of journalism school: the “5 Ws” of news are Who, What, When, Where, and Why. What a basic thing to miss, and to this day they continue to mislead the public by having stories on their site without complete dates. Of course readers who land there will think it’s a current story if it doesn’t clearly note otherwise!

If you see the story on social media, you can reply that the girl is now 28 years old, and they can read what really happened on this page.

Here’s the story, from True’s 26 November 2000 edition:


When a teacher at Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Okla., fell “mysteriously” ill, student Brandi Blackbear, 15, was brought in for “aggressive interrogation” by assistant principal Charlie Bushyhead. Blackbear admitted she had read books from the school library about Wicca and said she “might” be Wiccan. She is Roman Catholic, her family says. A federal lawsuit against the school charges Bushyhead suspended Blackbear for 15 days as “an immediate threat to the school,” seized her notebooks, and barred her from drawing or wearing any Wiccan signs, because he concluded she had “put a hex” on the stricken teacher. Blackbear denies casting any spells. “It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” her father said. The school district’s attorney, Doug Mann, was eager to comment on the case but could only complain, “It’s totally unfair that we are gagged by federal and state law” protecting minors and students when the Blackbears “can say anything they want.” (Tulsa World, Reuters)…Which is why we need those laws, counselor.

The Update

As published in Volume 7 of the This is True book series:

In 2006, the “Lifetime” cable channel made Brandi’s story into a TV movie, Not Like Everyone Else.

As for the lawsuit, Wikipedia notes that “the school offered a settlement, [but] the Blackbears refused. They were not interested in the money, despite needing it; what they really wanted was to have their story heard in court to inform the public that the school had mistreated Brandi. The judge ruled to dismiss the charges rather than going to trial, and ordered the Blackbears to pay $6,000 in court fees, which they could not afford. Eventually it was agreed to drop the fees if the Blackbears dropped their appeal.”

So Brandi didn’t get justice, but at least her story was told to a wider audience.

Link: The story on the ABC News site.

A Hex on ABC News

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20 Comments on “A Hex on ABC News

  1. I wonder if the Blackbears received adequate compensation from the TV movie to cover some of those other legal fees in the original suit?

    Also, having never seen that surname before, I wonder if Charlie Bushyhead, or his ancestors, ever sported an “afro”.

    I certainly hope they got enough to cover legal fees, and then some. Their goodwill gesture to not take from the taxpayers really blew up in their faces, as far as I can see. -rc

  2. I agree with Randy’s take here completely.

    But I’m disturbed by the comment by Dennis: the assistant principal is so stupid, he must be …black? I’m not sure how else to interpret that comment. Thanks to Ron’s link, we can be assured that yes, white guys can be idiots too.

  3. Jim, it seems to me the comment was on the last name, not the race. Bushyhead punned to Bushy Head….

    I still see what Jim means, though: “afro” is pretty specific, and gave me pause too. -rc

  4. Back to Jim – No, I only used the term “afro” because that was the name of the hairstyle. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, I had several friends who wore afros. A couple of them were white, and also there was one who was Asian-American. Really, I was simply surprised at the surname as I had never seen it before. I was wondering if it happened to be a Native American surname. I was similarly surprised the first time I saw the surname “Whitehead” 30 years ago, but I’ve seen it several times since.

    Cool — thanks for following up, Dennis. -rc

  5. I’m really not trying to belabor the point, but the inference made me want to investigate further. According to this wiki article, the term did in fact take on a more generic definition. If Randy allows it in the comment, take a look at the picture near the bottom — the example of a “Jewfro”. Overall, a very informative article which I probably never would have read without the unfortunate inference from my original comment. So, thanks Jim!

    Sometimes I really hate it when I approve a comment that doesn’t really pertain to the actual post, since then the comments end up being about the comments, rather than the issue at hand. But I’m glad we got this cleared up — I think this fully closes the matter, and I won’t be approving other meta comments on this topic. Thanks. -rc

  6. If you will permit one more “off topic” comment, the name Bushyhead did in fact come about because of bushy hair. The original man named Bushyhead was a half Cherokee, the son of a British Officer (Captain Stuart — race not mentioned, but presumably white) and a Cherokee woman (Susannah Emory). Bushyhead’s son Jesse Bushyhead was a Baptist minister and one of the group leaders on the Trail of Tears, and his grandson Dennis Bushyhead was Chief of the Cherokee in the late 19th Century. For what it’s worth, the Mr. Bushyhead in the story does appear to have Native American facial characteristics.

    Reference: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v015/v015p449.html

  7. Why in the world did the judge dismiss the charges? That makes no sense. This was a clear case of a student’s rights being violated. The family had a right to make this story public, so the desire to do so could not have been a legitimate reason for refusing to let the matter be heard. I would have to question the integrity of the judge, as well as the principal.

  8. I’m a bit concerned about the people who sent you this article. It clearly states in the article “It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” said Timothy Blackbear, Brandi’s father.

    That’s only for people who read the whole thing, and carefully. I’d bet most people who read that today will take it to mean “in the 2000s,” especially if they were reading fast. -rc

  9. This story also appeared in my Facebook feed this past week, and I was confused by the date as well. But, I did some research to find out more about it, and realized the true date then. Still, it is unsettling that a school would believe a girl could place a hex on a teacher! I am Wiccan, myself, and spells usually are not to do things to others (except healing spells and positive things). They are mostly used to empower the spellcaster and put them in a positive state of mind. Spells are not supposed to be done to harm another. “An it harm none, do what ye will” is a fundamental part of the Wiccan Rede. I was questioning whether she was just interested in Wicca or just curious about it, since I believe she was actually Catholic. I have not seen the movie.

    What actually disturbed me more about the whole thing was that they confiscated her personal writings and stories. I was also researching to see if by chance she had grown up to be a writer. I did the same thing in school. I wrote stories, some of them horror stories, and I just could not imagine someone taking them away from me! Unfortunately, I could not find anything more about her. I hope she still writes, published or not. I do!

    I certainly hope she got them back long ago. -rc

  10. This is True has a fantastic following — large and vast. But, The Daily Show and/or Colbert Report have tremendous reach as well. I am sure that there is a great amount of overlap between the audiences, as the appeal to folks who “Need to think about what’s going on in the world around them” is clear in all three.

    I don’t know how to go about this, but I think it would be amazing to get Brandi on one of the shows as a guest (Assuming she would want to), to tell her story and make sure that treatment like she received is put into the spotlight. Maybe this way, the knowledge that it is WRONG to treat people like this will spread. One can hope.

    She presumably got that with the TV movie, though I didn’t see it nor have I heard what she thought of it. -rc

  11. Why did the judge fine the Blackbears $6,000 for “legal fees”? And why was the fine dropped when they dropped their plans to appeal? Simple. Extortion.

    And yet there are people in America who don’t understand why some folks don’t trust the “justice” system.

    It’s a shame that after the legal rape they had to endure, the Blackbears didn’t immediately turn around and sue Bushyhead personally. Sadly, after 13 years there isn’t a whole lot they can do about it. Meanwhile this “Christian” bully is now an assistant superintendent.

    Do people still wonder why secularists like me find the Christian Dominionist idea of “bringing America back to Christ” is so chilling?

  12. Randy, you made the point about the 5 Ws and how important it is for the news carriers to be clear about all of these in their output, to avoid misunderstanding. Coming from the UK, I wonder whether you also see the following practice which I get quite cross about: a rolling news channel (BBC 24) keeps showing undated footage of a breaking news event, even hours after it began, and there is no indication on the screen as to when all these things took place; surely the obvious thing they should do is superimpose date/time on the footage; does that happen on your news coverage?

    If there’s no text — or newsreader — giving proper context, yes, this bothers me too. Is it live? Two hours ago? Two weeks ago? File footage of a similar event in 2007? They need to say each time it’s run. -rc

  13. When I opened the page a date appeared next to the Oct 28 notice gave the date of Jan 7 2006 which further adds to the confusion. If this was the date the story was added to the site (I am not sure if they had a robust site in 2000) perhaps this was local news or withheld from wide release until 2006 when all stories from the past were added to the site as a resource tool (one of many possibilities). There is certainly nothing in the story to suggest that it was updated after the fact- if it was I would like to think that if it was updated 6 years after the event it would have a resolution to the case. The two dates make a confusing situation worse, as the date on the mobile site does not have an attribution (e.g. Posted on, Updated on, etc.), in addition to the lack of year on the original date. This was on an Android tablet.

    Also, I have to agree that the date within the article does reduce the question of when it happened but its presence is a pure coincidence — a quote provided by someone involved in the story, as well as it being a catchy sound bite that the media always appreciate; if the father of the girl had not said that it would not include the year at all. I am hoping that people would read the whole article any time they are going to form an opinion, if people are doing that then they should not be commenting on an article. If people aren’t making any effort to get the full story how can they think that they understand a story? I doubt (perhaps it is hope rather than actual doubt) that there are not many that do this but the way you describe it bouncing around on social networks it is likely that it is not read in detail, just the headline and first sentence, I believe that is all Facebook show. This is a terrible shame as this is not enough to consider an issue and come up with an informed opinion.

    Very odd that you’d see two dates. I just checked it and I still only see “Oct. 28”. -rc

  14. Ah! The unintended consequences of “gag order” laws! Everyone should note that the whole concept that the schools actions were motivated by a belief that the student put a “hex” on a teacher was the ACCUSATION that the student’s lawyers were making against the school. The school is legally barred from telling us that a belief in witchcraft had nothing to do do with their actions. Even school administrators are innocent until proven guilty in my book. The fact that, when ALL sides of the story were heard in court the student lost the case leads me to believe that “witchcraft” was not really the motivating factor for the school.

  15. This is a peeve of mine with my local affiliate. Their web page has leftover links to horrifying articles, stories which happened months ago. I’ve caught myself exclaiming oh God… not again… only to find it’s the same story. Glad to see the topic highlighted here.

    I get caught by those all the time when I’m looking at a reader’s suggested story. “You may also be interested in…” are sometimes great stories, and other times they turn out to be months old. On a news site?! -rc

  16. A little dissapointed, Randy – the quote in your ‘Update’ is from the Wikipedia page for the telemovie, not the actual incident. There’s a reason they call them dramatisations, and say ‘based on’ true facts, not necessarilly ‘actually a truthfull account of the inident itself’.

    The actual court case was dismissed, according to the actual court report because her constitutional (and presumably other legal) rights were NOT infringed, primarily because she was a) not actually a wiccan (by her own admission in court documents), and more importantly b) was not actually suspended for anything wicca-related, but for threatening and ‘terrorising’ other students at the school (on several occasions).

    My personal speculation is that the school’s attourney was annoyed that he couldn’t read out the students actual suspention records to the media on the steps of the court (for obvious and good reasons, her being a child and all) whereas the Blackbear’s could read out all their (subsequently demonstrated to be untrue) allegations of religious prejudice to the media in the same place. As the media professional you are, you know that the first story usually gets all the buzz and publicity, not the story 6 months later when all the facts have been presented calmly and rationally. The attourney was understandably apprehensive that the Blackbear’s ‘misrepresentations’ would circle the planet before his own facts could get their shoes on. And look whad happened.

    It’s hard to hack through your numerous creative spellings to see what your actual complaint is. I identified the source of the information, it does say the judge dismissed the case, etc. What part do you think is wrong? And please run your prose through a spellchecker before posting it. -rc

  17. I believe that Ben in Sydney did make clear that his complaint is that you quote the Wikipedia page about the MOVIE as if it was an authoritative account of what actually transpired in REAL LIFE. I found his spelling variations very easy to read through and dismissed them as possible Australian variants on the language.

    It disturbs me also, that this kid was bullying and threatening other students and yet, by crying “wolf”, gets the ACLU and a media frenzy to attack the school which was rightfully protecting the other students from her behaviour (that’s “behavior” in American English).

    I believe that Ben and I were both hopeful that your Update would included the fact that, in real life, Brandi Blackbear LIED about this having to do with religion in order to manipulate the media and deflect attention from her own misdeeds.

    I agree that Brandi did not get Justice. If she had, she would have been ordered to pay the school’s entire court costs for bringing a frivolous lawsuit based on lies. THAT would have been just.

    I do see that the source I used — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandi_Blackbear — is redirected to a page about the movie. But I still see no evidence that the details there are a summary of the movie, which may or may not be fictionalized, and are contrary to what happened in “real life.” Nor do I see any evidence that “Brandi Blackbear LIED” about what happened. If you or anyone else has an authoritative source to show that, I will be happy to update the Update section. -rc

  18. I did what nobody else seems to have thought of — I put a comment on the ABC news story page about the likely date of the events, and the name of the TV movie. That may stop *some* of the forwarding if this goes viral again.

    Good idea. -rc


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