Lost in Translation

Why Don’t We Have More Hispanic Talking Heads?

TV pundits love to talk about the importance of Latino voters. But why aren’t more Hispanics speaking for themselves? Jamie Reno reports.

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

It’s official: Latinos are now the nation’s most coveted “new” voting bloc, and they’ll have a record 31 members in Congress come January. But amid all the talk of Hispanics’ new political clout, they’re still barely visible as anchors or hosts on the national broadcast and cable news networks, even liberal channels such as MSNBC. And without those voices, several sources say, their power is weakened despite what happened on Tuesday.

There’s been a lot of talk on all the English-language television networks since the election about the increasing power of the Latino vote—but virtually all of the TV pundits pontificating about this subject this past week have been non-Hispanic. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday morning, for example, four white males over 50 sat around and talked about the election, including the Latino vote.

In fact, of the 23 MSNBC anchors and hosts listed on the network’s website, apparently only one is Hispanic.

And while CNN has CNN en Español, on the main network only two of the 21 anchors and hosts are Hispanic: Soledad O’Brien and Zoraida Sambolin.

Brittany Uter, a spokeswoman for MSNBC, declined to comment for this story. Christal Jones, public relations manager at CNN, tells The Daily Beast, “I will say that among our anchors, we have African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos, we have diverse hosts. As a network, we are always trying to increase our diversity among our employees both on camera as well as behind the scenes.”

But that isn’t good enough for Jose “Rafi” Rodriguez, a retired Air Force colonel and Hispanic leader in Ohio who has been an active member of the Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“I noticed the lack of Hispanic anchors during the election, and I didn’t like it,” he says. “The American news media still lacks Hispanic voices. You have Anglos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americas, but Hispanics—the fastest growing minority in the country—are largely absent, very few and far between. To find them, you have to go to the local or regional level. It’s surprising. But the Hispanic community spoke very loudly in this election. We don’t need an advocate, but we need more representation in the national English-speaking media, there is no question about it. It would also be nice to see more Hispanic commentators. We have more influeunce than ever before. But you don’t really see that in the news media, at least not yet.”

Glenn Llopis, founder and CEO of the nonpartisan Center for Hispanic Leadership, says Hispanics’ clout is weakened by the lack of anchors and hosts on our major news networks.

He suggests that the American media wants to find Hispanic voices, but “it is very difficult to find a nonpartisan Hispanic leader who can objectively and unemotionally articulate issues that can inform and educate the mainstream viewing audience. Very few Hispanics are media-worthy in the networks’ eyes, because most have ties to political agendas that don’t represent the majority of Latino voices. Many Hispanics would say, ‘Who is he or she to represent my point of view,’ rather than support a voice that is attempting to represent a fresh perspective to help advance positions and points of view on policy and business issues that impact them every day.”

On the other hand, Llopis says, “the media doesn’t want entitlement or victimization voices. They want a Hispanic who can articulate issues like a white person does, but represent issues that resonate with the Hispanic community.”

Llopis says the media generally would rather play it safe by not representing Hispanics whose advocacy positions would disrupt or fragment their own Hispanic viewership, thus putting advertising dollars, relationships, and credibility at risk.

“The media would prefer to focus on showcasing non-Hispanic voices whose opinions will not be taken as personally by Hispanic viewing audiences,” he says, “even though most of the non-Hispanic perspectives are out of touch with the realities that Hispanics face in their communities and what they really stand for.”

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Mark Hugo Lopez, executive director of the Pew Hispanic Center, who wrote a piece this week on Latinos in the 2012 election, points out that the audience is split between those who watch English-speaking news channels like CNN and Spanish-speaking news outlets such as CNN en Español.

“I don’t know to what extent the Spanish-language media siphons people off, but there are two worlds out there,” he says. “Spanish-language media has many important anchors. But we’re not seeing many yet in the English-speaking world.”

But even though many Hispanics in America watch the Spanish-language channels, more Hispanic-Americans than ever watch the English-speaking channels, and they are simply not well represented on these networks, says Armando Azarloza, president of the Axis Agency, a multicultural advertising agency that is a subsidiary of IPG, one of the world’s largest ad firms.

Ararloza, who has worked in the past on several Republican political campaigns, notes that currently, one-in-six Americans is of Hispanic origin, and the community is growing in affluence and buying power.

“This hasn’t really been reflected yet on the national news media, but it is happening,” he says. “The only exception to that rule in the media is the soft news anchors on morning shows, Maggie Rodriguez and others, but generally they are behind the curve. What’s happening in news organizations is not unlike corporate America. Companies continue to silo Hispanics; they have separate Hispanic marketing budgets, and this silo approach ultimately divides the two markets. We are seeing it change already on the marketing side.”

Azarloza notes that Walmart recently announced it will no longer have a multi-cultural budget. “They won’t siphon money off to reach Hispanics or other minorities anymore, they’ll just have one budget,” he says. “That seem to be where we’re headed in the future; Pepsi did this a few years ago, and Clorox, too, they are one of my clients. It will take a while to get there. The election helps. The census also helps. The fabric of our nation is changing. We are now seeing more English language and U.S.-born people in the Hispanic community than we’ve ever seen. Just in the last census it was still a Spanish-dominated market that was largely still immigrant born. Everything is changing quickly.”

But Danny Bellas, a Cuban-American who works as a public relations professional for Fortune 500 companies in both the general and Hispanic markets, is a bit more cynical. He says it may take longer than Azarloza thinks.

“When the media executives think it will mean more profit for their networks, when there are more middle-class and upper-class Hispanics that advertisers like, we will see real change,” says Bellas, who adds that the Hispanic culture, and “all the diversity and beauty within that culture,” is not valued or respected as it should be in this country, especially by the media conglomerates that own the broadcast and cable networks.

“If I’m a network executive and I hire a 5'3" man who looks 1,000 percent Mexican and I want this person to speak on behalf of all Hispanics in our nation, well, that executive has to know that Hispanics themselves that look like that man on television will not want to listen to him,” he says. “Even Hispanics themselves have been brainwashed not to value his word or respect him as a human being. It’s a question of what our society values. Money will change everything. Through money and numbers, and reeducation programs on the value of diversity, people will start to process this and look at things differently.”