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Univision, the Spanish language news giant, shifts its approach to Trump

When Donald Trump ran for reelection in 2020, his campaign called Univision, the nation’s most influential Spanish-language network, “a leftist propaganda machine and a mouthpiece of the Democrat Party.”

“We shall treat them accordingly,” top advisers promised.

Three years later, Trump is treating Univision and its new corporate owners like long-lost friends. He hosted a trio of its executives at Mar-a-Lago last week during an hour-long Univision interview that was notable for its gracious tone, starting with a question about how well he is doing among Latino voters in early general election polling.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, a friend of one of the executives, helped arrange the interview and was also in the room, according to multiple people familiar with the event.

“All you have to do is look at the owners of Univision. They’re unbelievable entrepreneurial people, and they like me,” Trump said in response to the question about Latino voters.

The reversal has shocked Democrats — who are preparing a massive ad campaign to brand Trump as hostile to Latino interests — and some journalists inside Univision, who think that the past week has demonstrated the heavy hand of their new corporate bosses. The Mexican media company Grupo Televisa, which has long fostered a close relationship with Mexican political leaders, merged with Univision in 2021.

The Democratic alarm further spiked two days later, when Univision advertising representatives told the Biden campaign that spots already purchased to run during the Trump interview in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida had been canceled — owing to a heretofore unannounced policy about opposition advertising in single-candidate interviews.

Univision also canceled a booking with Biden’s Hispanic Media Director Maca Casado to respond to the Trump interview after it aired on the network’s late news broadcast, according to people familiar with the details, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity for this article because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Not since 2004, when former president George W. Bush outperformed expectations among Latino voters, has the Spanish-speaking population been so up for grabs in a presidential contest, according to early polling. Democrats now fear they are losing their access to a network that has been instrumental in past elections in aggressively reporting on Trump’s immigration policies and their effect on Latino viewers.

The concerns were first raised in November 2022, when Univision took the unusual step of interrupting programming to cover Trump’s Mar-a-Lago campaign announcement live. When Biden gave an Oct. 19 prime time address on Israel and Ukraine, the network cut away from the remarks midway, directing viewers to an online stream of the remarks, according to a Democratic media tracker.

“The new ownership is essentially co-opting and kidnapping the soul and mission of what Univision has been up to now, and they are serving it up on a silver platter to Donald Trump,” said Maria Cardona, a political consultant and member of the Democratic National Committee. “It is going to mask the pernicious and dangerous politics that Donald Trump is going to implement if he becomes president again.”

Semafor first reported the presence of three executives at the Nov. 7 interview — TelevisaUnivision CEO Wade Davis as well as TelevisaUnivision Mexico co-CEOs Alfonso de Angoitia Noriega and Bernardo Gomez Martinez. Puck first reported the cancellation of ads and of the Biden official response to Trump’s interview.

The Biden and Trump campaigns declined to comment for this article.

Over multiple campaign cycles, Univision’s news division has long fostered a reputation for challenging power with abrasive questions. As a result, Republicans have largely steered clear of its airwaves.

The network’s most famous journalist, Jorge Ramos, came to work in the United States after quitting at Televisa in Mexico, where he said he was not allowed to report on criticism of the government. Since then, he has built a reputation by challenging powerful people and rejecting the deferential approach to political journalism.

Ramos was deported from Venezuela in 2019 after confronting President Nicolás Maduro about the suffering in his country. He demanded that Hillary Clinton state in a 2016 debate whether she would continue deporting children if she became president. When Ramos confronted Trump in 2015 about Latino concerns over his immigration rhetoric at a news conference, Trump security escorted him out of the room.

“Go back to Univision,” Trump said.

The network later backed out of a contract with Trump’s company to air the Miss Universe contest, leading to a lawsuit that was settled out of court in 2016.

At the time, Univision was chaired by Haim Saban, a major donor to Hillary Clinton who no longer chairs the company. Clinton campaign emails, which U.S. officials say Russian intelligence officers hacked in 2016, revealed that Saban had suggested a meeting between a senior Clinton campaign official and a Univision news executive at the start of her campaign.

People familiar with the situation inside Univision described alarm and discomfort in the newsroom last week about corporate’s role setting up the Trump interview, the selection of the interviewer and the decision to shut out Biden’s response.

Kushner, who has been minimally involved with Trump’s current campaign, surprised some Trump advisers by helping to broker the Univision interview, according to people familiar with the process. Kushner has a long working relationship with one of the executives who went to Mar-a-Lago, Bernardo Gomez Martinez, a political player in Mexico who, the Associated Press reported, hosted a 2019 dinner at his home in Mexico City with Kushner and Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Trump’s team thinks they can win a larger portion of the Hispanic and Latino vote in 2024 than he did in 2020, and he often brags privately about how his numbers with minorities were better than other GOP candidates, including Mitt Romney.

“This is Latin American stuff. This is the way people in Latin America deal with power,” said the person familiar with the situation inside Univision about the Trump interview, after requesting anonymity to describe internal conversations. “It certainly is a repudiation of the example Jorge Ramos has set.”

Others familiar with strategy behind the Univision interview have described it as a valuable step to reset the network’s journalism to more completely reflect the politics of Latino voters in the United States.

“It’s important that we show the audience that when we talk about diversity, we also mean points of view,” this person said.

Spokespeople for TelevisaUnivision did not respond to a request for comment from Ramos.

In an unsigned corporate statement, TelevisaUnivision told The Washington Post it had been seeking an interview with Trump since 2015, and that the event “held significant importance for our audience.”

“It’s worth noting that our news division operates independently of the corporation’s ad sales division. The decision was made by the company to abstain from political advertising during the interview,” the statement said. “Similarly, there will be no Trump advertising during the President Biden interview we have been trying to secure for many months.”

A Biden campaign official said that while Univision had requested an interview with the president, there had been no offer for an hour-long sit down to be broadcast during the network’s highest rated 10 p.m. hour in place of a highly rated telenovela soap opera. The campaign received its first request for a Biden interview after the Trump interview aired, the official said.

“We have been requesting an interview for months to then discuss its details,” the company responded in an unsigned statement. “The door is open to Biden to speak with us in any way he would like.”

Rather than use local talent for the interview, Univision flew in Enrique Acevedo, a journalist now working for Televisa in Mexico City, who has extensive experience reporting on politics in the United States. He co-moderated a 2016 Democratic presidential primary debate for Univision, and worked as a correspondent for CBS News’s “60 Minutes.”

He left questions about immigration until the second half of the interview, avoided follow-ups and did not challenge Trump when he falsely claimed to have built a border wall paid for by Mexico or argued that President Barack Obama started the practice of child separation at the border. (Most of the Trump border wall was replacement fencing, and it covers a fraction of the border. There was no direct mechanism for Mexico to pay for it, despite an increase in trade tariffs. Obama’s administration did sometimes separate migrant children from families in cases where the children were in danger, but did not separate families to deter border crossings like Trump.)

After the interview, Acevedo defended his approach on the social media platform X, suggesting a shift from the more confrontational style that has been Univision’s calling card.

“I’m a reporter and my job is to ask questions,” Acevado wrote in Spanish. “Information should be the protagonist here.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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