Anger over blogger Matt Cunningham's post on his Anaheim Blog — which has ties to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and Anaheim City Council majority and recently mocked a Latino mourning ritual — spread throughout the online world and into the City Council chambers Tuesday.
Theresa Smith, the slightly greying mother of a 35-year-old Latino man shot and killed by Anaheim police, held up a grisly photo of her son’s corpse for the City Council and audience to see during the public comments portion of the council's regular meeting.
“I’m disgusted with you, Matt Cunningham. I’m so sick of this,” the grieving mother said, her voice breaking. “These are things that I have to live with.”
Smith's sentiments were echoed as reports on the post appeared in media outlets nationwide, with particular ire directed at the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce for its funding of Cunningham, an independent political consultant who is well-known locally as a voice for Anaheim's political establishment.
"It's wishful thinking, but after this inexcusable fiasco maybe the Chamber will come to its senses and terminate its relationship with Cunningham," wrote one reader in a comment under the Voice of OC article on the issue.
Chamber President Todd Ament took pains Tuesday to distance the organization from Cunningham's Anaheim Blog, insisting that the Chamber has "nothing to do with" the blog.
However, Ament's statements contradict the chamber's previously stated association with the blog through a recent post on a chamber website that referred to it as "Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Blog."
Cunningham's post featured a photo of a defaced teddy bear lying next to a Virgin de Guadalupe candle, a scene that clearly mimicked widely publicized images of memorial sites that Latino families place on sidewalks to honor the killings of young men in gang and police shootings.
It was quickly taken down after a phone call from a Voice of OC reporter, and replaced with an explanation stating that Cunningham — who is also county Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s appointee to the county Parks Commission — was merely trying to make a point about the organized left’s exploitation of tragedy to advance political agendas.
(Click here to read our initial article.)
But Cunningham’s removal of the post did not prevent media outlets from reporting on it.
It officially became a national story when the Huffington Post wrote about the incident. It was also picked up by national media blogger Jim Romenesko, the popular California politics website Rough & Tumble, Southern California radio station KPCC and the local Orange Juice political blog.
Anger over the photo comes as Latino residents struggle to piece together their broken confidence in the Police Department. More than a year after back-to-back police shootings killed two young Latino men and triggered a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth, Anaheim remains a racially charged and divided city.
Latino activists and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the city to change a city election system they say disenfranchises the Latino community. Settlement talks are ongoing.
Gustavo Arellano, the Latino editor-in-chief of OC Weekly who was raised in Anaheim, wrote that Cunningham’s post and its removal was an indication of how “out of touch” the city’s political establishment is from Latinos, who constitute 54 percent of the city's residents.
“All the recent police killings in Anaheim? Their grieving families? And how activists point to such sadness as a city gone awry? That's satire! Hardee-har-har!” Arellano wrote. “It was pathetic, unfunny brain dribbles par for the Cunningham course.”
Jose Moreno, the president of the Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County, was also mocked in Cunningham’s post. He criticized it late Monday night, saying “it reflected badly on the [Anaheim] chamber of commerce.”
Chamber President Ament said Tuesday that the chamber's contract with Cunningham is for special projects, but refused to specify.
“That’s between us and Matt,” Ament said. The contract "has nothing to do with the content, the comments,” of Anaheim Blog.
Cunningham, who turned down a request for an on-the-record interview about the incident, has also declined to discuss what the chamber pays him for.
Yet, Stopthepowerplant.com, a website Ament acknowledged was run by the chamber, recently linked to a post on Anaheim Blog, calling it the "Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Blog":
After Tuesday's media coverage, the power plant site's reference was changed to just “Anaheim Blog.”
Anaheim Blog has echoed the chamber’s position on several high-profile issues, such as a controversial $158-million tax subsidy for a hotel developer, a local water district’s decision to lease land to a power plant developer and Angel Stadium lease negotiations with team owner Arte Moreno.
Donna Acevedo, whose son Joel Acevedo was killed in a police shooting last year, told the council on Tuesday night that she drew a clear link between the chamber and the blog. “Some things are just not funny,” she said.
“When I saw this,” Acevedo said, holding the teddy bear photo, “I saw my son. … Is this funny? Does this look like Theresa’s son? Or my son?”
In response to public comments from the mothers, Councilwoman Gail Eastman said from the dais that she doesn’t read Cunningham’s blog.
“I know nothing about the blog you talk about. That’s not something I choose to follow,” Eastman said. “I’m truly sorry that these mothers were disturbed by anything that was published that made fun of their loss. I just want them to know I’m truly sorry for their loss.”
Said Mayor Tom Tait: “As far as these pictures, I think it’s just very sad that it was done. … At best, poor taste.”
Tait asked that people respect “the humanity of all.”
Cunningham has since published an apology for the post, saying that he didn’t intend to offend anyone.
“I’ve tried to make clear there was no hurtful intent, but less clearly stated is that I am sorry for hurting anyone’s feelings. Regardless of my honest intent, it’s clear that feelings were hurt nonetheless, independently of anyone’s politics, and for that I am sorry,” Cunningham wrote in his explanation, titled “Why This Post is Gone."
“I have lost family members. I know how it hurts, and I know the loss of a child in the most inconsolable of all, and I sincerely wish I’d had more awareness when writing the post.”