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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero: Latinophobia in mainstream news fuels the radical right

A main driver of democracy's decline in the United States is Latinophobia — from its central role in the rise of Donald Trump to its influence in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Any news media company concerned with democracy should be engaged in a concerted and urgent campaign to stop this plague.

Instead, the news media are superspreaders for Latinophobia. Today, 54% of Americans suffer from the same delusion that motivated the coup attempt and other white terrorism: that the U.S.-Mexico border is being invaded. A new NPR/Ipsos poll found 76% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats believe this fallacy is at least "somewhat true."

Fox News isn't alone in spreading the sickness. Left-of-center media are complicit, from NPR letting Trump peddle his anti-immigrant Big Lie in January after featuring open white supremacists to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's praise of Tucker Carlson this month. She called the Fox News host "talented" and compared their rivalry to a "game."

Now, CNN's new leaders are pushing a centrist approach that threatens the work of the network's defenders of democracy.

On Thursday, CNN parted ways with media reporter Brian Stelter months after he publicly criticized John Malone, a billionaire Trump donor and the most powerful investor in CNN's new owner, Warner Bros. Discovery. Malone had said CNN needed to "actually have journalists." He cited Fox News as a model of attempting "news news."

In his February "Reliable Sources" newsletter, Stelter wrote that Malone's comments had offended many staffers and created fears about censorship of "calling out indecency and injustice." A CNN employee told me some anchors are now wary of being direct with audiences.

Will the new leadership silence tough-questioning anchors such as Jim Acosta or Jake Tapper? The CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, mentored by Malone, has said he wants CNN to be different from "advocacy networks," and that he envisions a place where "everybody can come and be heard; Republicans, Democrats."

For those who cherish the status quo because they're wealthy, white and male, "neutrality" is a lofty ideal. Long-held notions of objectivity and impartiality often end up protecting elites' interests.

The network already features numerous Republicans, including those who've defended Trump's racist policies. But most of CNN's right-wing guests are Trump critics. Anyone parroting his fantastical talking points is wise to avoid an interview in which they might face real questions.

A CNN employee told me Trump's allies often refuse to come on.

I reached out to CNN for more details on the move toward the center but didn't receive an on-the-record response. Regarding whether CEO Chris Licht would prioritize Latino talent for a 9 p.m. Eastern anchor slot vacated by Chris Cuomo or other anchor slots, a CNN spokeswoman replied: "He hasn't made any decisions on that yet."

Latino advocacy groups have been pressing Warner Bros. Discovery in meetings for improved Latino representation on screen and off, but the company has largely disappointed, including by canceling beloved Latino streaming content.

This year, only 5% of guest appearances on the Sunday news shows were of people who identify as Latino or Hispanic, according to Media Matters for America. "Fox News Sunday" outperformed others with a 10% rate, thanks to regular appearances by Juan Williams.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, argues that greater voice and visibility for Latinos, 19% of the U.S. population, is crucial. He says CNN trying to seem centrist could harm democracy. "The danger is you become an apologist for something like fascism or authoritarianism or anti-democratic behavior," Castro told me. "They have to be careful."

"Both-siderism" is a risk in journalism broadly, made worse on Latino issues by the dearth of Latinos in news media. We need more Latino media executives, reporters, anchors, guests and sources so they can challenge negative stereotypes that fuel white extremism. The framing of immigration by left-of-center news media is particularly dangerous because it so often depicts people as a "surge" or an "influx," as if they're numbers, not humans — just as Fox News does.

The talk shows can begin to correct this quickly by inviting more Latino guests. Latino media leaders tell me the relative lack of Latino guests reflects a lack of diversity among segment producers and bookers.

"They're like, 'Oh, I got my two Latino voices,'" said Julio Ricardo Varela, Futuro Media president and co-host of "In the Thick," a political podcast centering on journalists of color. "We're still seen as a checklist item."

Under Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal News group since 2020, MSNBC has made progress. For example, MSNBC's Alicia Menendez is a strong advocate for Latinos, regularly inviting them to speak on her show "American Voices." And recently, iconic journalist Maria Hinojosa became an MSNBC contributor.

Hinojosa, who founded Futuro Media in 2010 to create a space in public media for Latinos and people of color, told me: "If you're not talking to, with, about or for Latinos and Latinas when you're covering politics, then frankly you're putting our American democracy in danger."

Roberto Lovato, a journalist and visiting professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told me the media's chronic disregard for and demonization of Latinos make it "easier to murder and even mass murder and abuse and cage and separate and silence Latinos." He pointed to the El Paso massacre as an example of the possible consequences.

It reminds him of what he saw in El Salvador leading up to killings by U.S.-backed right-wing militias. "There was always a media component first that dehumanized people who ended up dead," he said.

The media's reflex for centrism is anything but neutral. If we don't correct it, Latinophobia will destroy this country.


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