The Latino population is growing at the second-fastest rate in the country, meaning that the United States of the future will be increasingly Hispanic. But for television news, 2016 was a year in which Latinos were underrepresented -- even in conversations about Latinos -- misidentified, or simply not included.
In 2015, the number of Latinos in the United States grew to 57 million, and yet, during 2016, television news continued the disturbing pattern from previous years of marginalizing Latino voices in cable news discussions. This creates a blindspot in news media and marginalizes Latinos from discussions on the American experience. Latinos were even underrepresented or altogether ignored in discussions of stories that intimately affected the Hispanic community.
When President-elect Donald Trump expressed doubts that federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel could objectively do his job because of his Mexican ethnic heritage, many Latinos could have provided insights from their lived experiences, sharing stories about having similar doubts cast upon their ability to do their jobs, or about their accent or the sound of their names making them victims of labor discrimination. And yet, in cable news discussions of Trump’s attacks on Curiel, only 11.5 percent of the guests who were asked to provide analysis were Hispanic.
The same was true after the horrific massacre at the Orlando, FL, gay club Pulse -- a tragedy that took place during “Latin night” -- which left 49 victims dead, 90 percent of whom were Latino. The day after the massacre, out of 254 guests appearing on cable news networks, only 20 were Hispanic. On CNN and Fox, only 6 percent of the total number of guests on were Latino, with MSNBC doing slightly better at 12 percent, an amount still disproportionate with the number of Latino lives taken. By having the analysis and commentary surrounding the events at Pulse mostly driven by commentators who didn’t represent the victims, cable news missed out on an opportunity to lift up the communities that were hurting the most.
Similarly, in narratives that affected all demographics and impacted the experiences of everyone living in the United States, Latinos were still largely excluded. This was true on Election Day, when the morning shows of the three cable news networks -- which run for a combined nine hours -- managed to include only one Latina guest. The panels included on CNN’s New Day, Fox’s Fox & Friends, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe featured mostly white guests providing commentary on the election, including their thoughts on the Latino vote. There also wasn’t a single Latino moderator during the presidential debates, which received some of the highest ratings of the year.
Even in the instances where Latinas were the protagonists of a story, TV news occasionally failed to correctly identify them. CNN used a picture of Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) in a story about her sister Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA); Fox News featured images of then-Senate candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) in a news segment about then-Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV); and a CBS affiliate located in Louisiana used an image of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta in a segment about the death of labor activist Helen Fabela Chávez.
Increased and more proportionate representation isn’t just important to those in the Hispanic community who are feeling excluded from the American narrative as it’s portrayed on television news; it’s also important for TV networks and producers and their audiences in general. For the sake of news media accuracy, what is shown on the screen should reflect American demographics. As veteran journalist Fernando Espuelas has explained, “media creates reality,” and so when audiences don’t see Hispanics discussing current issues in the media, “there’s a point at which even non-prejudicial, non-racist [people] start to be unable to see Hispanics in that context.”
Furthermore, the lack of Latino representation has enabled politicians to run campaigns that strategically and structurally ignored Hispanics and the concrete issues that affect their communities. By rendering the second-largest demographic group in the country invisible, the news media helped reward political strategies that prioritized white voters.
Underrepresentation can also have other downright dangerous and damaging consequences, like normalizing xenophobic discourse and disparaging rhetoric against Latinos on news media. “It's much easier to say nasty things about somebody who's not there,” Media Matters’ Kristian Ramos posited while advocating for more Hispanic representation.
In 2017, TV news outlets can work to avoid siloing and ignoring Latino voices by considering all of the American experiences that could help to illustrate and analyze a story and by featuring panels that accurately reflect both those most affected and American demographics. And Latinos should continue to push for increased representation and for the chance to tell their stories on the news media, so that less-diverse communities can get a glimpse into America's future.