Viewpoints

In election coverage, Latinos on losing end

SAN DIEGO – I was recently asked if I thought the media had failed Latinos in this presidential election.

My answer was a quick and unequivocal “yes.”

It’s not just Latinos. The media – especially the so-called elites whose world revolves around Washington and New York – failed all Americans.

And local media have not been immune. The Daily Commercial, a Florida newspaper, recently ran an editorial that claimed to be “part explanation, part reflection and part mea culpa” because, it said, readers “deserve a more balanced approach.”

But given that Latinos are the fastest-growing group of voters in America, that they are well represented in several toss-up states, and that they have headlined this election ever since Donald Trump broadly painted all Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, it’s worth noting how the media wronged them specifically.

▪ By not hiring enough Latino voices and commentators to offer analysis on television and radio broadcasts, and continuing the humiliation of turning to white and African-American analysts to speculate how Latinos might react to the latest political developments. Also by allowing very little complexity with the few Latinos they did put on the air, usually opting for partisans who predictably carried their team’s banner and put the interests of Latinos behind those of their party. One exception: Ana Navarro, the former GOP strategist who, as a contributor to both CNN and ABC News, became the breakout star of the commentator world by being one of the first Republicans to oppose Trump and sticking to her guns from the primary to the general election.

▪ By misreading the population and misunderstanding the issues that Latinos care about. It’s not just immigration, though that issue tends to kick up more than its share of dust thanks to the words and deeds of boneheaded politicians. Polls show that Latinos care most about jobs, education, health care and the economy. But the media only ask our opinion when discussing immigration. Even then, the vast majority of those reporters, anchors and commentators who are based in Washington and New York often seem incapable of understanding the immigration issue in all its nuance. The emphasis is always on compassion, what we should do for illegal immigrants. It should be on responsibility, looking at employers and asking what illegal immigrants do for us every day.

▪ By implying that Latino voters weren’t important this year when the media shifted the spotlight to a group that they thought they could better relate to: working-class white voters in the Rust Belt states. By declaring that the new battleground states included Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And by further confusing matters by reversing course, two weeks before the election, and announcing that, on second thought, Latino voters do matter after all now that a handful of states with large Latino populations – Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nevada – are much more competitive than anyone thought they’d be. Why didn’t the media just leave well enough alone, and keep their attention where it should have been all along: the Southwest?

▪ By not sounding the alarm early enough about Trump’s bigotry and unfitness for office and not sufficiently scrutinizing Hillary Clinton’s awful record on immigration, mass incarceration, trade and other issues that directly impact Latinos. At first, Trump was depicted as someone who just had trouble with Mexicans; the media should have realized earlier that he was a troubled candidate. Period. As for Clinton, more voices in the media should have made the case that she has spent much of her public career trying to straddle right and left, and mostly winding up on the right with talk of “super predators” and calls to deport Central American refugees without a hearing, all presumably in order to court white voters.

Some in the media would rather not hear these criticisms. In the same way that teachers often make poor students and doctors are sometimes the worst patients, those in newsrooms who spend their days criticizing presidential candidates have no interest in being scolded when they make mistakes.

I suppose that’s human nature. But this lack of introspection is also one reason media companies that used to be so influential and relevant to the daily lives of so many Americans now find themselves less so.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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