Jan 1 2013

Talking About–but Not With–Latino Voters

Electoral power not matched by media presence

The Latino vote has been widely credited in the mainstream news media with playing a major role in securing Barack Obama’s re-election. According to the polling organization Latino Decisions, the president won 75 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 23 percent for Romney, a 3-to-1 margin (Foreign Affairs, 11/15/12).

But while the stereotypical sleeping giant woke up, that does not mean that the mainstream media, especially television news shows, wanted to talk with the Latino electorate. They just wanted to talk about them. Extra! looked at hundreds of transcripts of post-election coverage and found that the majority of both broadcast and cable news programs discussed Latino voter turnout and its effect on election results but failed to feature actual Latinos in those discussions.

The morning after Election Day, Fox News (11/7/12) quoted Karl Rove expressing his concern over Republicans’ failure to earn the support of “socially conservative, patriotic, churchgoing family-oriented” Latinos. NBC (11/8/12) was worried about the GOP’s hurt feelings, choosing to quote Rush Limbaugh’s consternation over having to “embrace the illegals” in order win an election.

Most news outlets used this very narrow lens of immigration to look at Latinos as a voting bloc, as if that is all they based their votes on. The Sunday following the election (11/11/12), morning political pundit programs Face the Nation and Meet the Press opted to tell the story of Latino voters through Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer, respectively—the senatorial architects of a bipartisan blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform that was supposed to but didn’t emerge after the 2008 election.


Maria Teresa Kumar, a rare out-of-house Latina appearance on TV. Source: MSNBC's News Nation

Maria Teresa Kumar, a rare out-of-house Latina appearance on TV. (Source: MSNBC’s News Nation.)

When broadcast media did include Latinos, they tended to draw not on outside experts but on their own Latino reporters, anchors and in-house commentators, like CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and the network’s conservative pundits Ana Navarro and Alex Castellanos. More than one network went to their Spanish-language affiliates to provide the Latino perspective, including NBC (11/7/12), which featured a soundbite from NBC-owned Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart focusing on immigration, and CNN (11/7/12), which leaned on CNN Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez.

There were a handful of networks that sought outside Latino commentary. MSNBC had the most, featuring Maria Teresa Kumar, founding executive director of Voto Latino, in both their live Election Night coverage and post-election Latino vote discussions (11/7/12), and Lorella Praeli from United We Dream, a network of pro–DREAM Act advocates and activists (11/11/12). The morning after the election, ABC’s Good Morning America (11/7/12) went the celebrity Latino route by featuring Obama campaign co-chair and former ABC “Desperate Housewife” Eva Longoria.

This talking about but not really with Latinos is not a trend unique to the election news cycle. Extra!’s Julie Hollar noted in a report earlier this year (9/12) that Latinos are rarely turned to as “experts”—that is, the researchers, academics and analysts who add insight to stories. In FAIR’s 2007 study of poverty coverage, none of the 114 experts featured in the news were Latino (Extra!, 9–10/07).


Media also marginalized Latinos in post-election analysis by relegating critical analysis of the nuances of Latino electoral participation to their websites. For example, Cindy Rodriguez wrote a decent analysis about the impact of the Latino vote for CNN’s website (11/9/12) that was absent from the network’s television broadcasts. This calls into question how serious media are about looking at the far-from-monolithic Latino community when an issue cannot be summed up in a catchy sound bite.

Latinos who manage online news spaces are not surprised that they are deemed important enough as subjects, but not quite important enough to be invited to the table. Adriana Maestas, senior contributing editor at Politic365, told Extra!:


There have been people reporting and commenting on Latino communities, but the tone often reflects a lack of familiarity with the communities and typically doesn’t expose nuance in thought. There are media outlets who feel the need to diversify, but it seems that many of these organizations simply search for one person to fill their needs and do not seriously consider some of the people who have been writing, making their own media and establishing themselves as experts in these communities for years.


Maegan E. Ortiz (@mamitamala on Twitter) is the publisher of VivirLatino.com.