As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Havasupai tribal elders and Congressman Raul Grijalva for a historic announcement at the Grand Canyon National Park on Monday, Republicans across Arizona scurried to create their own roadside attraction.
And relying on information from a widely denounced anti-immigrant extremist, FOX News and other media outlets have been right behind them to fan the flames of Arizona's right-wing discontent this summer.
First the good news: Thanks to the long-time work of numerous Arizona groups and public officials, Salazar upheld a moratorium on a million-acre zone of uranium mining claims, assuring federal protection for Arizona's singular natural heritage: The Grand Canyon state.
"The announcement today begins to reverse the poisonous legacy of uranium mining and its devastating contamination to our region's people, water, and land," said Roger Clark, the Air and Energy Director for the Grand Canyon Trust.
While this should have been a moment to celebrate statewide, among the scandal-ridden and soon-to-be-recalled ranks of the Republicans, state leaders were falling over themselves to trump Alabama's new immigration crackdown and reclaim Arizona's reputation as the xenophobic stalwarts of the nation.
Last Wednesday, making good on his campaign promise to "stop la raza" or Mexican Americans, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal blatantly misrepresented the audit results of Tucson's Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies Program and declared the acclaimed program out of compliance with the state's ban. Huppenthal's lack of complete veracity has placed him under investigation, including a filing by the ACLU for full disclosure of the education chief's records.
Then Sen. John McCain started the next firestorm with his blunder last Saturday, when he declared he had "substantial evidence" that undocumented immigrants or smugglers were responsible for some of Arizona's numerous fires. While McCain tried to clarify his statement as a general overview on border security, he didn't seem to notice that forest rangers had already dismissed these types of rumors weeks ago. Quoted in the New York Times, one ranger "cited four other southern Arizona fires, all of them in known smuggling areas, that were found to have been caused by American citizens."
Not to be outdone, FOX News took the rumors one step further today with an interview with Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, with the headline: Arizona Sheriff: Wildfires Likely Started by Mexican Drug Traffickers, Smugglers. Without any hard evidence, though, Dever had to admit toward the end of his interview, "there's no way to know" who is responsible.
Amazingly, FOX News published and relied on data collected by Glenn Spencer, an infamous anti-immigrant extremist and militia activist. To back up Dever's claims and their screaming headlines, FOX News featured, "an aerial photograph purportedly taken on June 12 of the area by American Border Patrol, an independent organization that monitors the border, claims the blaze actually started in Mexico and traveled upwind into the United States. Dever said that was an "accurate picture" of what occurred."
Wow, so now the news media and law enforcement are relying on known anti-extremist groups for "accurate" data about Mexicans?
As Rep. Grijalva remarked on McCain's first comments, "This level of intolerance has reached a new low."
A year ago this month, Governor Jan Brewer conjured her own visions of "beheadings" by Mexican immigrants in the Arizona deserts, only to admit she was wrong. Will McCain, Dever and Huppenthal be next?
In the meantime, as the Arizona Gone Wild episodes turn, this is turning out to be a week of Mexicans, Lies and Videotape:
Here's Dever's interview on FOX News:
And popular Tucson blog Three Sonorans also questions Huppenthal's own misrepresentation of the facts about the Mexican American Studies program and its educational achievement in the growing Ethnic Studies audit scandal in this videotape: