Four-year-old photos keep pot boiling on immigration debate

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it today: The Internet is a great way to do research, get reacquainted with old friends, spread joy and jokes and find information that was difficult to obtain even 20 years ago.But because it can reach a huge audience without revealing where the message originated, the Web is perfect for spreading half-truths and rumors, for stirring trouble and hatred and for bringing violence and pornography (among other things) into your home.

For example, since the passage of an Arizona immigration bill that angered Hispanics, civil libertarians and a lot of ordinary people, agitators have dusted off an old set of controversial photos — just to keep the pot boiling — and presented them, via mass e-mailings, as if they happened this week, with this message:

“Remember this before you think Arizona is wrong to pass the new law … ,” and, “You will not see this heart-stopping photo on the front page of the NY Times, nor on the lead story of the major news networks.”

The photos depict a gleeful mob of young people at Montebello High School in Southern California taking down a U.S. flag on the school’s flagpole, replacing it with a Mexican flag and then running Old Glory back up, upside-down.

Hank Forrest was one of several readers who sent the message to me. Hank put his own message at the top: “Yes, this did tick me off when I saw it this evening. Wish that the SA Express-News would investigate.”

Here’s what I found:

The four photos, which are infuriating, were taken at Montebello High School on March 27, 2006, according to a statement on the school’s website. The statement claims the students depicted were from El Rancho and Whittier Union high schools, not Montebello, because the school was in a “lock-down” after learning 800 to 1,000 students were marching toward the campus.

The photos were published in the Whittier Daily News, which, the statement says, later printed a “retraction” for giving the impression that Montebello students were in the photos.

“Unfortunately, the damage had already been done in smearing the good name of Montebello High School,” the statement says. It also notes “the specific student involved” was “significantly disciplined” under the California Education code.

This column was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on May 16, 2010.

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