I never thought I would ever write a column defending a xenophobic, racist, arrogant, dishonest, clownish and ignorant candidate like Donald Trump. But I’ll do it today, in reference to his latest spat with Latino groups over his hosting NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
As you probably know, the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus — the group of Latino legislators in Congress — and some of the biggest U.S. Latino organizations last week asked NBC to “disinvite” the Republican presidential hopeful from his Nov. 7 Saturday Night Live appearance.
“Racism isn’t funny,” Hispanic Caucus chairman Xavier Becerra, D-California, said in a statement. “Trump’s degrading comments about the Latino community have no place on national television. It’s alarming to see NBC ignore Trump’s record of hateful speech, from calling Mexican Americans rapists and murderers to vowing to build a wall on our southern border.”
Simultaneously, a “Racism-isn’t-funny” protest by a group of Latino organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza delivered a similar petition to NBC on Wednesday. Organizers said it was signed by 522,000 people.
Hispanic groups were especially incensed — and rightly so — by the fact that Trump was not only invited to make a brief appearance at Saturday Night Live, but to host the entire 90-minute show. That will give him huge ratings and a unique platform to soften his public image and look simpático.
Protesters argue that they have the right to ask Saturday Night Live to dump Trump, or any other public figure who promotes massive deportations that would separate millions of families. Would the show have invited a Ku Klux Klan leader or an anti-African-American or homophobic candidate, they ask.
“We understand the free speech argument, but Saturday Night Live is not a news show,” Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice, one of the groups supporting the protest, told me. “This is an iconic comedy show that makes its hosts look very good. It is bewildering why they would give Trump this huge public relations coup.”
Free speech advocates, on the other hand, argue that the right to free speech supersedes the right to demand suppressing hateful speech, especially when it comes to comedy, satirical writings or political cartoons. That’s done in Cuba, Ecuador and Egypt, not in the United States and most free countries, they argue.
Much like what happened when Muslim terrorists tried to silence the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose jokes are often tasteless (this week, it published cartoons making fun of the Russian aircraft that crashed in Egypt), we should reject efforts to silence a satirical program like Saturday Night Live, press freedom advocates say.
Ricardo Trotti, executive director of the Inter American Press Association, says that asking Saturday Night Live to “disinvite” Trump amounts to prior censorship. That poses a huge threat to freedom of expression, he adds.
“We should defend Trump’s right to say whatever he wants to say,” Trotti told me. “If somebody feels damaged by what he says, they should sue him afterward.”
Other freedom of expression groups note that some countries prohibit their media from providing a platform to illegal organizations or their spokespeople, but that’s not the case with Trump, regardless what we think of him. And even prohibiting interviews or TV appearances by convicted criminals would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of the press, they say.
My opinion: Both sides make good points, and Latino groups are right in that Saturday Night Live — which, by the way, has had very few Latino actors or guests — would most likely not have given a 90-minute platform to a candidate who bashed African-Americans or gays, the way Trump has bashed Mexicans.
But asking the show to “disinvite” Trump amounts to supporting prior censorship, which would set a dangerous precedent. Also, I’m afraid that the Latino groups’ campaign has backfired by helping Saturday Night Live and Trump get higher ratings.
Instead of calling on Saturday Night Live to dump Trump, Latino groups should have launched a name-and-shame campaign against Trump, the show and its advertisers — everything but asking NBC to cancel Trump’s appearance. Trump’s thinly-veiled racism isn’t funny, but censoring a comedy show isn’t either.
Andrés Oppenheimer: Twitter: @oppenheimera; Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español
Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español