Spanish-Language Media Is Giving A Worrisome Pass To Trump's White Nationalist Flirtations

Spanish-language media reacted strongly to Donald Trump's candidacy from day one, responding to the candidate's early-campaign characterizations of Latino immigrants with massive amounts of critical coverage. But a Media Matters analysis shows they haven't paid as much attention to Trump's continued associations with white supremacist organizations. Spanish-language media should pay special attention to Trump's racial appeals, which have gone beyond traditional “dog-whistle politics.” This sort of campaign rhetoric can have nasty consequences, and Spanish-language media has a responsibility to sound the alarm, despite its own racial blind spots.  

Trump's campaign-announcement characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists, criminals and drug dealers rightly prompted a barrage of critical coverage from major Spanish-language outlets. His policy proposals of mass deportation and building a wall that Mexico would pay for inspired both ridicule and thorough fact-checking. And Trump -- and other Republican candidates -- was slammed on prime-time television for using a derogatory slur to refer to American citizens with immigrant parents.

While not explicitly calling for the support of racist groups (at least not publicly), Trump's rhetoric has nevertheless attracted them. His use of language that turns old racial sensibilities into new policy proposals that target specific racial or ethnic groups has gone beyond what leading voices in academia, like Ian Haney López, refer to as dog-whistle politics. And for Trump, the approach is working: White nationalist ideology websites have referred to him as "indispensable," and David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said Trump was "the best of the lot" running for president and warned his radio show audience that a vote against Trump would be "treason" to their heritage.

But in comparison to his very explicit threats of mass deportations and building a border wall, Trump's not-so-subtle appeals to white supremacy groups have garnered considerably less attention from Spanish-language media. Media Matters used iQmedia to compare coverage over the past month of Trump's wall versus Duke's support of the candidate and Trump's failure to unequivocally disavow him, and found considerably less coverage of the latter.

One explanation behind the coverage gap might lie in the fact that for the audiences of Spanish-language media, immigration "is not politics; it's personal." Xenophobia is easier to describe and grasp; racism that may be coded or systemic, not so much. Or maybe it's the KKK itself and its specific history that doesn't have enough resonance. Despite often being targets of skin-color-based discrimination, the Latino community has a hard time grappling with anti-black racism. “Anti-black bias among non-black Latinos” is an issue that “often remains unexamined,” Aura Bogado wrote in Salon in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin's fatal shooting by George Zimmerman, who is Latino. 

In an essay, doctoral candidate Melissa M. Valle broke down the problematic relationship non-black Latinos have with race issues, saying they often refuse to acknowledge the impact of race or dismiss it all together:

Bring up racism amongst those from Latin America and you'll often get an exasperated groan, followed by something about how class is the predominate stratifying principle in Latin America, and a plea to stop applying your U.S.-based take on race to those in Latin America and the Caribbean. They may even throw in a “we're all mixed” or “what is race?” rejoinder for good measure.

Spanish-language media reflect this racial blind spot to some extent, either with their minimal inclusion of non-white Latinos in their lineups or with their sometimes-tone-deaf content. Spanish-language media is still fighting battles against those abusing the platform to make non-white Latinos the butt of a joke, or even to direct racial slurs at the first African-American first lady of the United States. In an article published by The Nation, journalist Bogado pointed to another representative example of the challenges Spanish-language media need to overcome when it comes to racial representation:

Spanish language media don't have a good track record when it comes to race. During the last World Cup, Univision nationally broadcast a popular program out of its Miami studios that featured a segment where hosts wore wigs meant to be Afros and held sticks for spears in an apparent attempt to poke fun at black people. Univision apologized, but only after a national outcry pressured them to. It's not unusual, however, to find programs that demean blacks, indigenous people, Asians and Muslims on Spanish-language television.

Whatever the explanation for the lacking coverage, Spanish-language media need to cover and denounce Trump's race-based politics. If they need an immigration lens to view the issues through, Spanish-language media should pay special attention to the KKKs and the David Dukes -- and their support for political candidates -- because of their connection to anti-immigration sentiments and because they also use the presence of immigrants in the country as a recruitment tool and even as an excuse for racist violence. 

As Maria Hinojosa of NPR's Latino USA pointed out in her coverage of damaging 2016 campaign rhetoric, “Words are powerful; they can motivate people in good ways and bad.” In fact, words are already motivating people in negative ways. Latino teens were attacked in Los Angeles by white supremacists who yelled “Heil Hitler” and waved Confederate memorabilia, and students at a high school basketball game chanted “Trump” “as an epithet directed at Latino students," according to CNN. And in Boston, “a Hispanic man was beaten ... by two Boston men, one of whom told police that he was inspired by Donald J. Trump's anti-immigrant message.” The correlation between rhetoric that has gone beyond dog-whistles and violence is also demonstrated by The Huffington Post's running list of racial incidents that have happened at Trump rallies, often with the blessing of the candidate.

During a 2013 TEDx talk, Haney López laid out ways to deal with dog-whistle politics and its mutations, which could help guide Spanish-language media's coverage of the 2016 presidential race. According to Haney López, calling out dog-whistle politics and even more overt racism for what it is represents the first step. He warns that such honesty may get pushback, but urges that it's absolutely necessary. As Haney López explained, talking about race and racism is the functional equivalent of pulling a fire alarm -- and Spanish-language media needs to start acknowledging the fire: 

You are going to start talking about dog-whistle politics, you're going to start talking about race and racism, and what's gonna happen, it's gonna turn out -- you're gonna be attacked, you gonna be attacked for being divisive, you're gonna be attacked for being a racial opportunist, for playing the race card. You're going to be attacked, maybe for being a racist, because in our society now the way things work people who talk in coded terms about race aren't criticized, but people who talk expressly about continued racial problems, they're the supposed troublemakers. Hey, there's an easy response, and here it is: Just because you pulled that fire alarm, you didn't set the fire. Just because you dial 911, you didn't commit the crime. So when it comes to race, to politics, the crisis in the middle class, I want all of you to go out and pull that fire alarm.


Media Matters used iQ media to compare the coverage of Donald Trump's border wall (“muro” in Spanish) and David Duke's support of his candidacy, by searching for segments containing the terms “muro” and “Trump” and segments containing the terms “David Duke” and “Trump” on all Telemundo- and Univision-affiliated stations during the month of February.