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: 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.
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.
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