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My take: Don't need Fox News to tell us how to mourn

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My take: Don't need Fox News to tell us how to mourn

Criticism of memorial was 'politics, point scoring & pettiness'

  • First responders listen to President Obama's speech at the memorial service.
    Renee Bracamonte-Stewart/TucsonSentinel.comFirst responders listen to President Obama's speech at the memorial service.
  • Flowers and candles cover the front lawn of UMC on Friday morning.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comFlowers and candles cover the front lawn of UMC on Friday morning.

The Daily Show's John Stewart gave a biting critique of the criticism of Tucson's memorial service for the victims of mass Saturday's shooting.

The event, billed as "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America," was held Wednesday night at McKale Center, where President Barack Obama spoke to an overflow crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands.

Cable news commentators, many from Fox News, have laid into the event's organizers and attendees alike, for among other things, printing t-shirts for the event, for cheering, for the seating arrangements, and for the traditional Pascua Yaqui tribal blessing that opened the memorial.

"Politics, point scoring and pettiness," Stewart called it Thursday, exactly what Obama had warned against in his speech.

A Fox News talking head wasn't satisfied with the seating arrangements, saying that the heroes who stopped the shooting rampage weren't given prominent enough seats.

"Yeah, yeah, that would've made it much better. That would've made it a better show. But you know, it's a memorial service, not the Emmys," said Stewart.

The Native American blessing offered by Carlos Gonzales, a professor at the University of Arizona, was mocked by Fox commentators.

One found the blessing "very strange." Brit Hume said "it was most peculiar."

Hume blamed the "tone and atmosphere" of the memorial - which he found lacking - on the blessing:

"The whole thing is attributable in part to the remarkable opening blessing that was delivered by, what was his name, Carlos Gonzales, who by the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I'm sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, with it was most peculiar," he said.

"You can either have a pep rally or a memorial service, you can't have both at the same time," Hume said.

"You ever been to an Irish wake?" Stewart asked. "I've never been sadder and laughed harder in my life."

My take

Unlike the commenting class on Fox (and MSNBC and CNN and all the rest), I was at McKale Center on Wednesday night.

I'm just a humble reporter, not given to editorializing. But this is my town, my friends, my Tucson that was shattered. I've spent the last week working the clock around, hitting the bricks and the keyboard, reporting. I haven't had many moments to reflect, but here, for what they're worth, here are my thoughts.

What I witnessed Wednesday was a community coming together in grief, in collective relief, and in recognition of the heroism of those who saved lives that terrible morning just seven days ago.

People spontaneously cheered long before the official start of the program. Sheriff's deputies and police officers, firefighters and EMTs all received ovations as they came into the building, individually.

The families of the victims were cheered. The survivors who were able to attend were recognized by the crowd. Elected officials were cheered as they found their seats. 

The brave souls who ended the shooting rampage were cheered.

When the most visible faces of the past week, the doctors treating Gabby Giffords, casually walked through the crowd like any other attendee, the loudest cheer of the night was heard.

There was nothing staged or choreographed about the crowd's reaction. To me, as I snapped photos of those hugging and laughing and crying with grief and relief, it felt like we were a family. It was as genuine and heart-felt as the memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up at UMC and Gabbys' office and elsewhere.

Ever been to a Tucson wake? Now you have.

I don't expect anyone from the well-heeled commentariat to get how we do things here our dusty town, and I don't particularly care that they don't.

But it is insulting to the memory of those lost, to the needs of those wounded physically and psychically, to the calm professionalism of those who responded, and to the community that has rallied with symbols of hope and actions of support, to criticize a moment when we came together.

President Obama's speech rose to the occasion, both somber and rousing. The thoughts offered by the other officials who spoke were reflective and appropriate.

Daniel Hernandez, one of the ordinary people who performed extraordinary deeds last Saturday, was humbled and stunned by the crowd's reaction.

Dr. Gonzales' invocation was a moving representation of Tucson's embrace of our many cultures. Perhaps it wasn't Brit Hume's cup of tea, but who's going to listen to someone who so openly and ignorantly mocks the faith of another?

Much of the criticism of "Together We Thrive" focused on the crowd. Too noisy, too "raucous." "Whoops" when Obama announced "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time" were roundly condemned.

Condemned by those who weren't there, that is.

The talking heads on TV can belittle our cactus-riddled cowtown. What they say isn't important; that's why they have to endlessly repeat themselves to get anyone to pay attention.

Standing in that room, having honored those who died and those who responded whether it was their job or not, I know hearing that Gabby had opened her eyes lit up a community that had been stunned by Saturday's shooting.

As Dr. Shelton said, this is a metropolitan area of 1 million that is really a "small college town." "It is, in the truest and best sense of the word, a community, where people know each other and care about each other," he said Wednesday night.

I can't imagine there is a single person in Tucson who has gone untouched by this tragedy. Only a last-minute decision kept me from being there myself.

It has affected our friends and colleagues, for some our family members, and for all, those who we consider family.

So, you know what, Brit Hume and all the rest? The satellite trucks are pulling out of town, the last medical briefing at UMC has been given, the media from around the world are moving on to the next big story.

We're the ones who remain. We remain to mourn, to help each other pick up the pieces, to cry and yes, to laugh.


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