By Hadas Gold
March 27, 2017
After a year of feuding with Donald Trump, Univision is finding that Republicans are unwilling to appear on the network, according to Enrique Acevedo, the anchor spearheading Univision’s coverage of the Trump administration.
Acevedo said GOP members of Congress — save for those who represent the Miami area, where Univision is headquartered and is particularly strong — have been avoiding the network, the nation’s largest Spanish language platform, since inauguration day.
“It’s happened more since the inauguration. It’s harder to get access to Republicans than it is to get access to Democrats and I understand why that is. Republicans think they have more to lose going on Univision,” Acevedo said, citing his attempts to get Republican senators like Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on the air. “If we get an answer, which is an exception, the answer is: ‘It’s a busy week, they’re not doing media,’ and then we see them on Fox or CNN.”
Prior to the 2016 election, Univision’s leaders often declared that the road to the White House ran through the Latino community — and that the road to the Latino community ran through them. Univision executives gave presentations to Republican candidates, explaining to them how important Univision was to the Hispanic community, and how important that community would be to anyone who wished to get elected.
But the election results seemed to call that notion into question, as the candidate who launched his campaign with a promise to build a wall along the Southern border was elected by a solid margin in the Electoral College. The man who threw top Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a press conference and never granted Univision an interview became President Donald Trump.
Acevedo said when it comes to sit-down interviews, Univision is often categorized as “ethnic” media and gets pushed aside, even though in some markets such as Los Angeles, Spanish-language networks can attract higher ratings than their English-language broadcast competitors. But Acevedo said he believes there are other motives.
“The Republicans have already built the wall around Univision and our audience,” said Acevedo, who moved to Washington to cover the first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s administration. “They can ignore us at their own peril but it’s a disservice to the 55 million Latinos who want to hear form their members of Congress regardless of affiliation and they deserve to hear from them.”
Some GOP staffers on Capitol Hill said they only received a few requests from Univision for interviews since January, and were not consciously avoiding them. But two Senate Republican aides, working in separate offices, acknowledged that they have avoided or would avoid Univision because they don’t feel as though they’ll get fair treatment from the network.
“We hesitate to give additional access to Univision because they have never in the past been fair,” one of the aides said. “They seem to have a singular focus in driving a wedge on immigration issues. We may as well be interviewing with Rachel Maddow. Even so, we invite them to our events, answer questions they ask and give them the information they request. But they have not shown a willingness to treat our boss well, in which case we will decline to offer them exclusive interviews.”
The other senior Senate Republican aide specifically referenced Ramos, Univision’s biggest name, who had some of the most public tangles with Trump throughout the campaign. He, along with some Univision executives, were open in their disdain of Trump’s rhetoric about Latinos and immigrants.
“When you have a face like Jorge Ramos who’s an activist — he’s an activist, openly — it changes the whole network,” the aide said. “It’s not even opinion versus news, it’s activism versus reporting. He’s their figurehead, the most well-known personality, so people are hesitant to go on the activist network.”
In response to the criticisms about being an activist network, a Univision spokesperson pointed to the network’s recent Goldsmith and Walter Cronkite awards as evidence of its journalistic integrity, and said the network covers the issues the Latino community cares most about.
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“Univision News is committed to ensuring our audience is informed, regardless of their political views and affiliations,” Univision spokesman Jose Zamora said in a statement. “As such, our coverage is centered on the issues that matter most to the Latino community, which range from the economy, education and healthcare to immigration. We cover all elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, with equal rigor and focus.”
Zamora added, “The Hispanic community deserves to hear the policies and views of all political parties and Univision News is committed to providing direct access to all points of view.”
In regards to Ramos, Zamora said what he does is “journalism at its best,” which he described as “asking tough questions and speaking truth to power.”
“Anybody who says anything else is using it as an excuse to avoid being held accountable,” Zamora said. “Jorge has the total trust and support of Univision News. If politicians are happy with the work a journalist is doing, it is because the reporter is not doing her or his job well.”
Nonetheless, Univision’s chief rival, Telemundo, appears to be having more success getting certain senators on. Rubio was on their Sunday show “Enfoque” last month, and Cruz granted them an interview this past week, though the material was not ultimately used.
Back in 2015, as Telemundo launched its 2016 election coverage, it took a clear shot at Univision as it aimed to position itself as the Spanish-language news network “without an agenda.”
To be sure, both outlets have tangled with the current administration. Ramos was famously kicked out of a press conference during the early days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he’s been outspokenly against Trump’s immigration plans and border wall. Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart was also shut down by Trump at a press conference early in the campaign. Both networks have resources in place to inform immigrants about their rights under the new administration’s policies and have held various specials and events about being a Latino under Trump. A recent town hall hosted by Diaz-Balart called “Latinos Overcoming Fear” found the host comforting a child crying with fear that his father would be deported.
But Republicans have been particularly wary of Univision and long suspicious of its owner Haim Saban, a major booster and donor to Hillary Clinton. (Saban and Univision say he has nothing to do with editorial decisions.) They contend that Univision is unabashedly progressive, pointing to Chief Content Officer’s Isaac Lee’s comments defending Ramos and his network’s coverage of immigration issues.
“Univision’s audience knows that Jorge is representing them,” Lee said in 2015. “That he is not asking the questions to be celebrated as a fair and balanced journalist. He’s asking the questions to represent them. He’s going to ask the person whatever is necessary to push the agenda for a more fair society, for a more inclusive society and for the Hispanic community to be better.”
Univision is still the most watched Spanish-language network in the United States. The network says its Sunday news program, “Al Punto,” which is hosted by Ramos, has increased its audience from last year and draws in more young voters in the 18-to-34 age range than its English language competitors.
It’s nightly news cast, “Noticiero Univision” is still the top-rated evening newscast, and the network says it averages two times more viewers than its closest Spanish-language network evening news competitor.
But rival Telemundo is starting to pick up steam, with the channel’s overall ratings on the upswing. And the network says its nightly news show “Noticiero Telemundo” is gaining viewers at a faster rate than Univision, up eight percent since the beginning of the year.
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