It was just a subplot of a subplot in the big plot of our presidential election campaign.
But it almost had a life-altering effect on a local TV personality.
On the evening of Thursday, June 2, news junkies like me were catching wind of outrageous behavior by anti-Donald Trump protesters in San Jose, Calif. Some protesters attacked Trump supporters, punching or kicking them. And one Trump-supporting woman was egged by protesters in an incident captured by cameras.
On Twitter, NBC News correspondent Jacob Rascon posted a picture of the woman with egg in her hair and wrote, “Woman who supports Trump surrounded by protesters, who taunt her, then throw eggs and bottles at her.”
Lots of people responded to the tweet, most of them angry at the protesters. But a few hours later, at 12:58 a.m., KVOA sports anchor Paul Cicala responded, “Hey Brother.. you aren’t reporting that she was taunting protesters moments before -ointing (here he apparently meant “pointing”) to her Trump shirt etc Please be fair.”
Eighteen minutes later, Cicala responded to a Twitter critic by explaining himself this way: “not OK my friend those protesters are definitely wrong. But, she has to be careful egging them on or she sets herself up for that.”
The tweets were pretty tame by social-media standards. But Cicala did seem to blame the victim, this Trump-supporting woman, for being hit with eggs and a sign. Especially in the context of more serious violence against Trump supporters at the same rally, it didn’t look good. Soon, online critics were comparing his tweet to a justification of rape.
By morning, the usual had happened in these internet outrages: Cicala was being attacked on social media, family members’ pictures were being posted, death threats were coming in, KVOA was being bombarded with calls. The station took a few hours then came up with a response: It posted a statement apologizing for the tweets, and Cicala gave one himself on air later.
I thought Cicala’s tweeted arguments were wrong — no matter how you slice it, it was the protesters’ responsibility that they threw eggs at the Trump supporter. However, I defended Cicala online because his error was relatively modest and I know overreaction is the norm in these cases. As I documented in a column last year about former Tucsonan Adam Smith, people get fired and have their personal lives ruined over these stupid online incidents.
Cicala, whom I know a bit personally, has been a good person locally, donating a lot of time to charities and schools, and doing side projects like work on the film “49 Angels,” which opened here last week. In fact, it was opening night in Tucson for that film, about the daycare fire in Hermosillo that killed 49 children, when Cicala made his misguided tweets. It bothers me when people try to get a person fired for a single social-media misstep without knowing anything about their greater body of work.
Cicala was out of town on a pre-planned vacation this week, I’m told, and declined to speak with me. Station leaders didn’t answer my questions either. But I’m encouraged that Cicala still has a job here — firing him would have been wildly disproportional to the offense, especially considering Cicala’s other contributions.
Then there was this: The woman who was egged, Rachel Casey, acknowledged on “Inside Edition” this week that she flipped off one protester and went out into the crowd to confront other demonstrators. That, of course, was Cicala’s point in the first place: that there was a greater context to the attack that should be reported, though it came out sounding like a defense of the egging.
“They started it with me. I stood up for myself like any other American would,” she said.
Confronting the protesters was her right, of course. She shouldn’t have been egged for it. But neither should Cicala be crucified for pointing out there was a broader context to that specific attack.