Telemundo, the second largest Spanish-language network in the U.S., and Maria Celeste Arrarás -- co-anchor of the network's daily news show Noticiero Telemundo -- illustrated the value of Spanish-language media as they joined CNN to host the February 25 Republican presidential primary debate. Arrarás' understanding of the Latino community helped her press the candidates and provide clarity on the issues that Latinos care most about. And her participation shined a spotlight on both the value of diversity in newsrooms and the important role Latinos in the media play in empowering their communities to “engage at a higher level.”
The Republican National Committee (RNC) avoided further alienating the Hispanic community by reinstating the only RNC-sanctioned debate to air on a Spanish-language network, which had originally been canceled back in October.
The Washington Post's Callum Borchers wrote that Telemundo “showed the value of Spanish-language media,” in the debate, and Arrarás “made meaningful contributions” as a panelist, by pressing “all the candidates on the GOP's outreach to Latinos.” He said she forced Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to clarify his shifting immigration policies, including his pledge to end President Obama's executive action on immigration “on his first day in office,” and confronted Trump with the reality of his consistently unfavorable polling numbers with Latinos. She also framed the border-wall issue in a manner that “might make some voters think about it in a new way.”
While many journalists have called out Rubio for his shifting positions on immigration, Arrarás' push to get specifics out of the candidate was particularly poignant for the Hispanic community, which has greatly benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Rubio says he would end.
While moderators in other GOP debates have used the slur “illegal immigrants” to refer to undocumented immigrants, the Telemundo debate was free of that language. Arrarás' presence created a more diverse panel, and her understanding of the Latino community may have deterred others from referring to immigrants offensively.
Arrarás' performance at the debate illustrated experts' finding that diversity in the media has the benefits of reaching new audiences and improving the quality of coverage. It can also help combat problematic trends. Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis has explained that pundits, anchors, and newsrooms often contribute to criminalized media depictions of people of color, portraying them as inherently criminal, violent, adverse to authority, lacking innocence, and deserving of brutal treatment. A lack of newsroom diversity greatly affects the accuracy of media narratives. According to Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education “there are stories being missed due to a dearth of diverse perspectives ... not to mention critical nuances tied to culture and background, all of which ultimately make for better journalism.”
Yet Latinos -- who make up 17 percent of the population and whose voting power is expected to deeply impact the 2016 election -- like other people of color, are still underrepresented in the media. This underrepresentation leads not only to an absence of substantive coverage of the issues that matter the most to Latinos, but also to inaccurate portrayals that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Prominent Latino leaders have remarked on the need to improve Latino visibility in the media. The National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) Janet Murguía has emphasized the importance of Hispanic media figures, saying they 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.”