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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Coverage Fixes On Different Angles

Spanish-language media's focus differs markedly from that of general outlets.

August 19, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

While the mainstream media focused on the eclectic cast of characters running to replace Gov. Gray Davis last week, Los Angeles' Spanish-language daily, La Opinion, led its Monday edition with the banner headline: "Schwarzenegger gave his support to Proposition 187."

As "Access Hollywood" and "Entertainment Tonight" replayed clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger's entrance into the race on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Spanish newscasts were giving the star treatment to another candidate: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

The Spanish-language media's coverage of California's historic recall election is different from that of English-language counterparts, dwelling less on the colorful candidates and more on two themes: Schwarzenegger's support of the anti-illegal-immigration initiative and the possibility that Bustamante could become the state's first Latino governor in more than a century.

The result is a view of the recall story that news directors and editors say will continue to center on how candidates stand on issues that affect Latinos.

Among those topics are the controversial matricula consular identification cards, drivers' licenses for undocumented workers, and Schwarzenegger's selection of former Gov. Pete Wilson as co-chairman of his campaign.

Wilson championed the 1994 ballot measure that would have cut off many public services to illegal immigrants.

"In the last couple of days, the Prop. 187 thing has been covered extensively" in the Spanish press, said La Opinion's political editor, Pilar Marrero.

"The coverage has been negative so far on Schwarzenegger" because the candidate, shying from the political press, has given Spanish media little else to report, Marrero said. "It's troublesome to Latino readers that these topics are coming up again, particularly an image like that of Pete Wilson, who still is a very strong catalyst in our community."

Some candidates are already courting the Spanish-language media outlets -- and honing specific messages for them.

Davis met with Spanish-language reporters on Thursday to announce that he had agreed to sign a final version of SB 60, the bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses. But his aides required the interview be embargoed from some of the Spanish networks' English sister stations, effectively giving the Spanish-language media a day's lead on the story.

"What the request was, let's give this news to the Latino press first and foremost; let's show them the respect," said Davis spokesman Russ Lopez. "Respect is a major issue in the Latino community, and the governor wants to show them respect."

A review of some recent recall-related reports in the Spanish media show that Latino politicians tend to speak with more partisan fervor to Spanish-language reporters, using fraternal phrases to emphasize shared experiences.

Asked about Schwarzenegger's candidacy, state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) told KVEA-TV Channel 52: "Our community has to ask: What is his experience? What is his position on 187, on licenses?"

"The state of California is in danger of falling into the hands of the Republicans," Bustamante told the station on the night he announced his candidacy. "And they're the same people that were behind Proposition 187."

That same night on KMEX-TV Channel 34's 6 p.m. newscast, Bustamante repeatedly noted that state Republicans were behind Proposition 187. When anchor Rolando Nichols asked him how he would finance his campaign, Bustamante said: "I'm not a rich man. I don't come from a rich family.... There are something like 400,000 Latino-owned businesses in California. If each one gave me $10, just $10, it would be plenty."

A Bustamante campaign spokesman said the lieutenant governor does not change his rhetoric or tone when he speaks to Spanish-language media.

"He uses the words 'our community' when he speaks in English," said spokesman Richard Ross. "He's always talked about the broader agenda. I think you'll find he is going to say the same thing in both languages."

News directors in Spanish-language media say their coverage is different because they are more aware of their audience than general market media. As a result, their reporters and sources more directly address the audience, and advocate for their interests, they said.

"We set out to advocate, defend and stick up for our viewers, but all within the balance of good journalism," said Al Corral, news director of Channel 52, the Los Angeles affiliate of the Telemundo network. "What we do is see things from their perspective, and most of our viewers are Mexican immigrants who have been here for five years or less. So we try to put ourselves in their shoes."

While Schwarzenegger's Aug. 6 announcement on "The Tonight Show" was breaking news on English-language stations, top-rated KMEX reported it after six other stories and a commercial break.

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