Marc Caputo: Hillary Clinton's Univision ties met with near-silence in media; 'pay-to-play' claim from GOP

02/09/2014 4:27 PM

02/09/2014 10:32 PM

High in the polls with a dream candidate’s résumé, Hillary Clinton’s advantages in the 2016 presidential race are the stuff of near-constant media chatter these days.

Except for one topic: Univision.

The Spanish-language network, which broadcasts from Doral, has remarkably close ties with Clinton — from the way the media giant covers immigration to the financial backing of its top leader to a new initiative between the network and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Barely a peep from the press, though.

Last week, at an East Harlem event featuring Clinton, Univision touted a multi-year partnership with a foundation-led learning initiative for children 5 and younger. The success of the “ Pequeños y Valiosos” (or “Young and Valuable”) partnership will take time to measure.

But it began paying immediate dividends for Clinton.

Clinton’s face is featured in five of seven slides on the Univision website promoting the partnership with the foundation’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative. Taking no press questions at the event, Clinton was featured in the type of feel-good classroom setting that politicians on the campaign trail crave.

“The reality is this is less about promoting education than it is political pay to play by the Democrats and Univision,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said in an email.

“It’s shameful for Univision to promote Hillary’s record on education when it includes supporting candidates who gut charter schools and slash scholarships for low-income students in struggling schools,” Spicer noted earlier in his statement.

So far, the RNC isn’t taking on Univision the way it pressured CNN and NBC last year to scrap plans for a Clinton documentary, which Republicans said amounted to election-year infomercials. In that case, the RNC threatened to boycott the networks from hosting a 2016 GOP White House candidate debate.

The dispute was well-covered in the navel-gazing ranks of the New York-D.C. media-industrial complex.

How about the close Univision-Clinton ties? Crickets — although The Washington Post, to its credit, covered the Univision event and noted some political advantages Clinton could gain. On a related note, The New York Times reported in August how “efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Mr. Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Mrs. Clinton’s political future.”

Most media mentions of Clinton these days are limited to the unannounced candidate’s poll position, financial backers and biography (former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state).

“She would be a wonderful president,” Haim Saban, a major Clinton donor and backer, told the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth. “If it happens, we will of course pitch in with full might. Seeing her in the White House is a big dream of mine.”

Oh, yeah. Saban basically owns Univision, too. His Saban Capital Group bought Univision Communications Inc. in 2007 with other investors.

Saban wasn’t speaking about Univision in that above-mentioned Nov. 29 interview.

But just four days before, his network coincidentally announced its partnership with the Clinton foundation and a host of other major nonprofits, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Under Saban, Univision has become one of the most-watched networks on TV. Depending on the day or month, Univision has sometimes beaten out English-language ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox for young viewers in prime-time.

With Hispanics comprising the fastest-growing population and electoral demographic, the network is poised for outsized growth and political influence.

Univision’s reporting ranks are populated with unbiased professionals. But just as MSNBC appeals to liberals and Fox to conservatives, Univision gears coverage to its viewership’s interests.

And that means crusading for what its news president once called a “pro-Hispanic” immigration reform.

Those Republicans who have opposed the network’s favored legislation — including Florida’s only Hispanic statewide elected office-holder, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — were accused by Saban in a 2012 New Yorker piece of having a “despicable” and “anti-Hispanic stand.”

Rubio went on, last year, to cosponsor a bipartisan immigration-reform package in the U.S. Senate. The GOP-led House then killed it. And Republicans might block immigration reform this year, as well.

If so, it puts Clinton in a solid spot and Republicans on defense when it comes to Saban’s Univision and Hispanics more broadly. Rubio, a potential White House contender, trails Clinton in national as well as recent Florida polls.

Rubio got a taste of Univision’s tough reporting in 2011 after he stiff-armed the network.

The network then ran an anachronistic story on the drug bust of Rubio’s brother-in-law 24 years before, when the current senator was a teenager.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidates responded by boycotting a proposed Univision debate. That boycott foreshadowed the RNC’s tactics last year against CNN and NBC.

The reporting of that conflict barely referenced the prior Univision case, if at all.

This latest issue appears no different.

It’s tough to imagine a similar scenario of silence if Fox’s Rupert Murdoch gave millions to a Republican candidate or causes, and then pledged to use his “might” to get that person elected.

Perhaps Univision gets a pass because most political-media reporters don’t pay attention to Spanish-language media.

Regardless of language, though, the silence remains deafening.

About Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo

@MarcACaputo

Marc Caputo is the Miami Herald's political writer. Hailing from Key West, he graduated from the University of Miami.

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