Critics: Hispanic Media Lack Coverage Of Sotomayor News coverage of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings has dominated the news. But many expected Spanish-language media to be especially tuned in, as Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent. Three prominent Latino journalists debate whether their news organizations have a special obligation to cover the hearings.
NPR logo

Critics: Hispanic Media Lack Coverage Of Sotomayor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106590895/106590888" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Critics: Hispanic Media Lack Coverage Of Sotomayor

Critics: Hispanic Media Lack Coverage Of Sotomayor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106590895/106590888" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARTIN: As you might imagine Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings dominated news coverage yesterday, including that of the Spanish Language media.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: While many are hailing Sotomayor's nomination as a milestone for those of Latino heritage, we wondered how the story is playing in that community, especially among those who speak Spanish. So for those wondering what is being said in Espanol about the Sotomayor hearings, we've invited three prominent journalists who work in Spanish language media.

Gerson Borrero works for New York's leading Spanish Language daily, El Diario/La Prensa. He's a political columnist known for his independent streak. Also with us, Lori Montenegro, she's a veteran correspondent at the Spanish Language Telemundo network's Washington bureau. And Maria Elena Salinas, who co-anchors the evening news on Univision, which is the country's largest Spanish language media company. And I thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. LORI MONTENEGRO (Correspondent, Telemundo Network's Washington Bureau): Good morning.

Mr. GERSON BORRERO (Columnist for Spanish Language Daily El Diario/La Prensa, New York): Hola.

Ms. MARIA ELENA SALINAS (co-anchor, evening news on Univision): Hola, Michel, nice to talk to you.

MARTIN: Nice to talk to you again. Lori I'm going to start with you. You work for Telemundo, part of NBC. How would you say Telemundo's coverage of the hearings differs from that of the English language service?

Ms. MONTENEGRO: I would say it would probably differ because we've done a lot more stories than the English media on this, American mainstream media. For example, yesterday we had two stories on it. We had a debate with people who were pro and con. So we - I think we've also gone a lot deeper into maybe some of her background, what she's done, where she's come from, where she's going, and so forth and got a lot of reaction. We have what we call voce de pueblo, you know, the people's voice.

MARTIN: And what's the reaction? People are very interested?

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Very interested. People are paying attention. I can tell you yesterday my experiences, for example, a young lady who came all the way from Los Angeles with a friend. She's about 21 years of age. Her name was Cynthia Lelasco(ph). She said, you know, I'm Mexican-American. My parents were born in Mexico. I was born in Mexico. And just as another Latina woman I just thought it was important to be here, you know, supporting a Latina who's living the American dream. And I think that that's how they all feel.

MARTIN: Maria Elena, how about you? I understand that Univision interrupted regular programming to air and translate the nominee's statement to the community. I think I have a short clip. Here it is.

(Soundbite of a video clip)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: So the same question, Maria Elena. Is this must do or want to do? Is there a lot of interest in the viewers?

Ms. SALINAS: I think that Lori is absolutely right. We cover this story a lot more than our English language counterparts and it's because it is our story. It is a story of a Latina who could very well be the highest ranking Latina in the country once she is confirmed. And up till now I think that there's very few people who think that she will not be confirmed, even though it is expected that Republicans are going to be forceful in their questioning of Judge Sotomayor, you know, during the confirmation hearings, which shall be in the next few days.

But yes, we did. We covered her opening statement. We were the only ones in broadcast networks that covered it. And it's because really we want to show people how she is the ultimate role model. And I think people do see her - our audience sees her that way. Just as Lori said with Telemundo, we do extensive coverage of Judge Sotomayor.

We have since she was announced and we have joined this week also not only in our morning show, but also in our newscast we have several stories from New York, from Washington, from Puerto Rico. Remember that even though she was born in New York, Puerto Ricans really feel she's so much a part of her because her parents are from Puerto Rico, because of the pride that they feel that she is one of them.

Also in our show (unintelligible) which is a news magazine that airs on Tuesday nights, we have extensive coverage of her and we talk about a different angle. You know, she has been not only in the group of women in the club that did not accept men supposedly, but she's also part of another group of women in New York, who just like to hangout together. And one of our correspondents happens to be in that group, Blanco Rosa Vilchez. So these are women who knows her as a woman, as a friend who - they sit and chitchat as women.

MARTIN: So she's much of a personality. She is not just a - you would say it's not that she's not just a political figure. This is not just a political fight in the Spanish language media. You think she is more of a personality.

Ms. SALINAS: She definitely has become more of a personality. And, you know, when you see her mother also, people feel so empathetic towards her mother. Because really she has, you know, she inspires so many different people: working class families, single mothers. And in the Hispanic community, there are so many that fit the mould of her background, working families that came up, you know, that lived in the barrio who are striving for excellence, you know, who are looking forward to being in this land of opportunities.

And she embodies someone who has lived the American dream and who, you know, whose hard work and perseverance has opened the door for her. And I think that every Hispanic family, especially if you are a single mom, aspires to what Sonia Sotomayor has become.

MARTIN: Let's hear what Gerson has to say. Gerson, you're a columnist and so I think you probably had a little bit more latitude in what you may say or report than columnists - rather than the reporters and the anchors do. How do you assess the coverage so far? And what you're saying? What you're writing about?

Mr. BORRERO: I mean, Michel, thank you so much for clarifying that, with all due respect to my esteemed colleagues, both of them. I would like to see Telemundo and Univison really produce the numbers as to how their content differed or was superior to that of Anglo stations, which I have checked. I'll give you an example. This morning, when an hour and 45 minutes before the actual airing, they were running a commercial on the top model on Telemundo. Univison had their regular program, "Despierta America" with a guy singing, which is great, on a piano.

On a significant day as this is, for the history of this nation, in particular to the people that they allege to cater to, to be able to educate, illustrate and inform of significance. This isn't just a fly by night artist or a person with a book to peddle. This is a woman who by her own deeds and her mother's upbringing was able to live the American dream…

MARTIN: So, you think they're not doing enough in your view?

Mr. BORRERO: Oh, absolutely not. This is ridiculous for them to be pushing the suits alleged, you know, and pushing shows that are on Tuesday and this and that. I really, it repulses me that the suits have seen it fit at Univison and Telemundo with all due respect…

MARTIN: Well, I guess, you know - we're going to take a short break in a minute but why don't we let Maria Elena respond…

Mr. BORRERO: May I say this please…

MARTIN: Well, we only have - Gerson excuse me, time is the one thing that I'm not making any more of, and I'm in charge of it. So, why don't you just hold on for a minute. Let Maria Elena respond and then we'll come back to you after the break. Maria Elena, very briefly.

Ms. SALINAS: We are not a CNN or MSNBC type of network that we do wall-to-wall coverage…

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Exactly.

Ms. SALINAS: …on that type of thing. I think that what our audience appreciates more is first to put it into perspective. I think it's quality not quantity of the type of coverage that our audience expects of us. And I think that's what we are here to do for them.

MARTIN: Lori, very briefly and then we'll go back to Gerson after the break.

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Oh, you know, what Telemundo, you know, the venue for this would be your newscasts. And I think I'm very proud of what we've done there. And like Maria Elena said, it's not about quantity, it is about quality. And so with the time that we have, I think, you know, we just try to do the best that we can. You now, he has his opinion and we have to respect that. But I think we've - I could say, I'm proud of what we've done.

MARTIN: Well, is it possible that you feel perhaps your viewers aren't as interested in politics as some other people are.

Ms. MONTENEGRO: You know, some - and that is an ongoing discussion within the newsrooms. I'm going to be honest about that. There are people who think that our audience really doesn't care about politics. But then there are those of us who do and we win out.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break but when we come back we will continue our conversation about the Spanish language media's coverage of the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings with Gerson Borrero, Lori Montenegro and Maria Elena Salinas. That's all coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, death, dying, disability, never easy topics for anybody but those are especially difficult if you are a parent of young children. We're going to talk about the steps you need to take to be sure your children are taken care off in the event of a parent's death. That's the subject of our weekly mom's segment in just a few minutes. And we'll also tell you about a special election in California to replace Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. It's Chu versus Chu. We'll have those conversations just a little later.

But first, we're continuing our conversation about how Spanish language media outlets are covering the Sotomayor hearings. We've been speaking with Gerson Borrero of New York's leading Spanish language daily, El Diario/La Prensa. Lori Montenegro, a veteran correspondent at the Spanish language Telemundo network's Washington bureau. And Maria Elena Salinas who co-anchors the evening news on Univision, which is the country's largest Spanish language media company.

We were speaking with Gerson Borrero before we took a short break. But we're not sure if he left us or if he comes back to us, we will put him back in the conversation as soon as we can. So Maria Elena, was there a particular moment in the hearings or an image that struck you that might have struck your viewers as particularly significant, that but might be different from what people on the English language media might have been seeing or responding to?

Ms. SALINAS: Well, I think her words because it was very nice and very short and sweet. And I think that things that she said, especially recognizing her mother in the beginning for, you know, having raised her and her brother alone - and have given her this opportunity and being able to share this moment with her something that, you know, people felt very emphatic about. Before the break, we talked about whether or not politics is something that is boring or not - or that - people are not interested in.

And I would say that in general, politics is not necessarily the high rating, the type of topic that anybody covers, no matter what media outlet. But I think that in this moment in history, in the history of the United States, politics has never been so important to the Latino community as now. I think that we proved in the last election - the last presidential election that the Latino community has become a very powerful political force. The sleeping giant, like they say, has finally awakened.

And right now, I think what has been happening in the administration where this administration has named the largest amount of Latinos in high places - in the White House within this administration, in his cabinet, I think really has attracted people more. Because it makes Latinos or the Latino voter feel even more now that he is part…

MARTIN: Hmm.

Ms. SALINAS: …of the system.

MARTIN: ...of the system. Lori, what about you? Are there moments that stood out during the hearings for you that you think resonated more with the people who you're serving than perhaps might with other audiences?

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Well I think, you know, we recognize people in the audiences that maybe mainstream media audiences do not observe or know. But for example, for me it was very telling when you see two congressmen like Nydia Velazquez from New York and Jose Serrano also from New York, who at just one point were sobbing while she was speaking and she was talking about her mom and the sacrifices that her mother made. And when she turned around and she said, mom, they were just sobbing. And then we later on interviewed Congressman Serrano and he said, she just reminded me of my parents.

MARTIN: Well, finally we only have about 30 seconds left. Lori, I'm going to ask you this. Do you think that - the Supreme Court is different from the presidency. It's not as visible. Once she puts those robes on and she's confirmed, we really won't see a lot of her after this. Do you think that she will have the effect of getting people perhaps more interested…

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Oh, definitely.

MARTIN: …who (unintelligible)

Ms. MONTENEGRO: I think right now there are probably a lot of young Latina and - Latina young men who are also Latina, who are thinking about being a lawyer, who are thinking maybe of entering the judicial process. No, definitely she is there to stay within the community. And they'll be watching what she's doing because they understand the decisions that the court makes.

Ms. SALINAS: If I may…

MARTIN: I'm sorry Maria Elena. That's all the time we have. I apologize. Telemundo network correspondent Lori Montenegro joined us in our Washington, D.C. studio. We were also pleased to be joined by Univision news anchor, Maria Elena Salinas who joined us by phone from South Florida. We had been joined by Gerson Borrero. He is a political columnist for El Diario/La Prensa. He was with us by phone from New York and he decided to take himself out of our conversation. But we thank you all so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Thank you.

Ms. SALINAS: Thank you for having us.

Ms. MONTENEGRO: Bye, bye Maria Elena.

Ms. SALINAS: Bye.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.