Prominent advocates for the nation's Latino community highlighted how badly America's second-largest demographic is underrepresented in the media during a September 17 Media Matters-sponsored event to mark the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. The panelists underscored how the media's nearly complete lack of Latino representation ranges from the dearth of Latino voices and perspectives included in English-language news to the absence of substantive coverage of issues that matter most to Latinos -- and how that underrepresentation is mirrored by underrepresentation in the government, which deeply impacts "the quality of life of the Latino community."
Panel moderator and CEO of Voto Latino, María Teresa Kumar explained that despite the fact that Latinos "are the second-largest demographic group of Americans ... our policies, our issues, and our opinions are completely missed from mainstream."
National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) Janet Murguía pointed out that when the media does cover Latino issues, the stories often present "a very shallow view of what the Latino voter looks like," and frequently portray the community as concerned with the single issue of immigration, despite evidence that the economy, health care, and education are just as important to Latinos. Murguía noted that Latinos "are not monolithic, but we are multidimensional in terms of what we care about and how we engage in different roles in society."
Hector Sánchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, illustrated how media coverage often fails Latinos by "responding to ratings" and overemphasizing sensational stories -- like Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants -- rather than providing a balanced platform for substantive coverage of issues that affect their lives:
The media is responding to ratings. When you have to respond to ratings, the sad reality is that you're not reporting what's important for the nation, what's important for the community. You're not researching in depth the issues that are happening on the ground. But it's more about tabloid news. This has a deep impact in the quality of life of the Latino community.
This is not a superficial issue. This has a deep impact in the quality of life of the Latino community, hate crimes against Latinos have increased 50 percent in the last five years, poverty increases because of this, there is a direct correlation with anti-immigrant pieces of legislation.
Felix Sánchez, co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, shed light on the importance of increasing Latino visibility in the media. As Media Matters has documented, improving diversity remains a challenge for decision-makers at media outlets: every broadcast Sunday morning political show is hosted by a white man, and guests of color are still underrepresented on not just the major broadcasters' Sunday shows, but also on morning political talk shows on MSNBC, and CNN.
As Voto Latino's Kumar noted, representation of Latino voices and perspectives in the media is "not just good for American Latinos, but it's actually good for the country to make sure that we are covering stories and our issues accurately." NCLR's Murguía added that Latinos who actually work in media have "a real understanding of the Latino community" and are therefore uniquely positioned to make "sure that our community is more informed" and "can engage at a higher level."
Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, also explained that the underrepresentation of Latinos in the media is matched by their underrepresentation in government, saying, "When we talk about our voice missing in media, think about our voice missing in government."
From the September 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the August 20 edition of KLUZ's Noticiero Univisión Nuevo México:
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Fox News' Steve Doocy falsely claimed that undocumented immigrants issued driver's licenses in California "have gotten the right to vote." But in reality, licenses issued under the California program are "specially marked" and "do not entitle [undocumented immigrants] to vote."
From the August 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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Fox News' first GOP debate of the primary season is taking place on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a landmark piece of legislation aimed at preventing states from passing discriminatory voting laws. But with the help of most of the Republican politicians currently running for president, voting rights have been steadily rolled back in recent years. With today's spotlight on the GOP presidential hopefuls taking the debate stage, here's what reporters should know about the candidates' efforts to roll back voting rights for minorities, the young and elderly, and low-income Americans.
Fox's Outnumbered roundly denounced a proposal that would allow permanent residents in the District of Columbia to vote in local elections, lamenting that it undermines the notion of American citizenship while ignoring that D.C. citizens do not have a vote in Congress.
On July 8, D.C. legislators discussed a bill that would allow U.S. permanent residents, or green card holders, the right to vote in local elections. According to WAMU, advocates of the proposal suggest the measure would give a "formal voice" to permanent residents who already pay taxes.
Discussing the bill on the July 10 edition of Outnumbered, host Sandra Smith remarked that "[y]ou are not an American citizen so you don't have the right to vote. Period." Andrea Tantaros agreed, calling D.C.'s measure "lunacy" as Harris Faulker claimed that her "sensibilities are offended by the fact that we don't at least respect where we come from." Fox contributor Julie Roginsky went on to ask "[w]hat does it mean to be an American citizen if not that you have the privilege of voting for the representative government that you want?"
But Roginsky's question ignores that all residents of the District of Columbia, citizen and non-citizen alike, are not represented by a voting member of Congress. D.C. is represented in Congress by a non-voting delegate, currently Eleanor Holmes-Norton, who cannot vote on the House floor. DC Vote, a group that advocates for D.C. voting rights, points out that citizens in the District "pay federal taxes, fight and die in wars, and serve on juries, yet are denied voting representation in Congress," and that Congress has the final say over their laws. According to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, over 600,000 people live in DC -- more than the state of Wyoming-- and its residents pay $1.6 billion in federal taxes each year.
After Hillary Clinton proposed reforms to increase access to voting, right-wing media accused her of playing the "race card" and sowing "division" for political gain.
Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, the state's self-appointed vetter of GOP presidential candidates, recently told members of the League of Women Voters that it should be harder for people to vote, suggesting it be limited to state property owners or people who pass a civics test -- both of which were used to disenfranchise black voters and others in colonial America and the Jim Crow era.
On the June 4 broadcast of Mickelson in the Morning, Mickelson hosted two representatives of the League of Women Voters. During the discussion, Mickelson declared that unlike his guests, whose group works to register more Americans to vote, he is in "the voter repression business" and doesn't want people to vote "unless they agree" with him. He also suggested that in order to vote, Americans should have to pass a "civics test" to prove they're smart enough.
From the June 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News helped 2016 presidential candidate Rick Perry (R) and likely candidate Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) defend their state's discriminatory voting restrictions and whitewash their poor records on voting rights.
Fox News' Andrea Tantaros criticized Hillary Clinton's focus on improving voting access, claiming it is "such a load of bunk" to argue that some people don't have the ability or money to get an ID for voting purposes during the June 5 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered.
However, a 2012 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that "many citizens will have trouble making [the] trip" to obtain ID and that restrictive voter ID laws "will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote."
Restrictive voter ID laws disenfranchised voters in the 2014 elections, when voters were turned away after failing to obtain the select kind of identification required to vote. And 2015 has already seen 113 bills introduced to restrict access to registration and voting in 33 states -- nearly half of which "are aimed at establishing or tightening voter ID requirements," according to the Brennan Center.
Fox host Steve Doocy parroted a Republican National Committee (RNC) attack on Hillary Clinton's voting rights proposals, without disclosing the source.
In a June 4 speech at Texas Southern University, a historically black college, Hillary Clinton proposed significant voting law reforms, including universal automatic voter registration and at least 20 days of early voting. The Washington Post reported that Clinton criticized Republican support for policies that disenfranchise voters, saying: "Today Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting."
On the June 5 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy took issue with Hillary Clinton's focus on voting rights (emphasis added):
DOOCY: But what's interesting is, remember she was the U.S. senator from the state of New York which is a Democrat state. And yet New York does not allow early voting while dozens of Republican-led states do. So, I mean if she's going to be talking about voting, how about early voting in New York, Madam Secretary?
But the Fox & Friends hosts did not acknowledge that Doocy's attack came directly from the RNC. Orlando Watson, the RNC communications director for black media, criticized Clinton on June 4, saying her "shameless attacks ignore the fact her Democrat-led home state of New York does not allow early voting while dozens of Republican-led states do."
And as The New York Times noted at the time, Republicans in New York's state legislature opposed the 2013 early voting measure proposed by Democrats to improve the state's low voter turnout (emphasis added):
All but one Republican voted no. And Senate Republicans are resisting, too. Why? Not, they say, because they want to discourage voting. Their complaint is that early voting would be too expensive for upstate counties. That problem could be addressed by cutting back on the extra hours and adding a little extra state money.
From the June 4 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough downplayed the recent history of voter suppression following a series of Republican-enacted measures restricting voting access, and claimed that improving voter access is an "absolutely ridiculous" Democratic "fearmongering routine."