Univision is an important media and information source for many American Hispanics. It is, in its own words, "is the premier Spanish-language media company in the United States with a powerhouse portfolio of media assets that not only inform and entertain Hispanics, but provide a vital link to their community."And it would seem that there is some truth in the self-promotional material.
What is certainly true is that Univision has become an important source of political information for Hispanic and non-Hispanics alike. Their chief American political contribution has been the development and promotion of public political debates. They have done this both at the state level and the national level.
Like most niche businesses aspiring to greater impact and public visibility, Univision has developed a range of entertainment vehicles and also developed a cadre of political reporters and programming.
And that brings us to the February 2010 Univision interview with President Obama. Don Francisco conducted the interview. Mr. Francisco, a stage name, is no ordinary news reporter. He is the host of "Sabado Gigante," a program that reaches 100 million viewers in 30 countries, and according to one account is "one of the best-known television personalities in the history of Spanish-language television."
Any interview of the president is likely to bring news. An interview of the president by the host of one of Univision's most popular shows worldwide is itself an important event in the Spanish-speaking world, including members of the Hispanic community in the United Stated.
That is why the interview, and in particular one blatantly inappropriate and even offensive question by the interviewer, deserves to be noted. About half way through the interview Mr. Francisco asked the following question:
Don Francisco: Mr. President, within our Hispanic community, there is a concern that not only the problems that we face are not being solved, but that they are getting worse. For example, Arizona's SB1070 law which practically turns immigrants into criminals; What do you think [of] that?
The president's response is an expected one speaking of the virtues of his efforts to bring about "comprehensive immigration reform," but he doesn't contradict the smear.
Don Francisco's question begins "Mr. President within our Hispanic community…" and he then transitions into his view that the Arizona law "practically turns immigrants into criminals." The president doesn't correct him, presumably because he either shares the perspective or prefers to benefit from it.
The phrase "practically turns immigrants into criminals" is pure hyperbole. No one thinks legal immigrants are criminals. And few even think that undocumented immigrants are "criminals" in the ordinary sense of that word, which involves the committing crimes like assault, fraud, robbery, and worse. Undocumented entry to the United States definitely involves the breaking of laws, but most Americans do yet consider it a "serious crime."
Mr. Francisco seeks to elevate what many Americans would consider at most a misdemeanor level of law-breaking into a major crime so that he can make the rhetorical point that the Arizona law threatens to single out and criminalize honest people, all of Hispanic descent.
In doing so, he slanders not only the vast majority of Americans who support immigrants and immigration, but also those in border states like Arizona and elsewhere, who acutely feel the consequences of illegal immigration. A majority of Americans support legal immigration and a majority of Americans do not support illegal immigration and want something done about it.
Univision has provided important and informative political information for Americans from many different communities, not only for Hispanics. It has an important role to play in helping Spanish-speaking immigrants become acclimated to the new country, the United States, in which they have chosen to settle.
It is therefore a matter of regret that Univision allowed this gratuitous smear to be broadcast worldwide without a word of regret or disclaimer.
As to our president, who let this smear stand without correction, it is just one more piece of evidence that there are many things about this country, and widely held views of ordinary Americans within it, that he doesn't really like.