Spanish Nets Have Big Role Tuesday


Perhaps often-overlooked, especially by many mainstream media outlets, the Hispanic vote is likely to be critical in the presidential election. Barack Obama and John McCain have campaigned vigorously in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida, where significant Hispanic voting blocks could be the deciding factor in which states go into either candidate's Electoral College tally.

Telemundo and Univision have aggressively covered the presidential campaigns, distilling the candidates' respective messages for their bilingual viewers. Telemundo's multiplatform Vote for Your Future initiative has helped thousands of viewers become involved in the American political process. Don Browne, president of Telemundo Communications Group, has seen elections from various angles in the news business. He began his television career with CBS during the civil rights movement, and today sees one very important parallel between the struggles of African-Americans then and Hispanics today: the impact of voter registration drives.

Browne talks to B&C's Marisa Guthrie about the significance of television in the Hispanic community and how Telemundo compares to cable news coverage; he also rates Obama's Spanish accent.

The Hispanic voting bloc, which aligned along Republican lines in the last two Presidential elections, seems to really be in play this time.

Hispanics are a very diverse voting bloc. But what really helped George Bush [in 2000 and 2004] is he does speak some Spanish. Not great, but he does speak some. And he was very attuned to Hispanics, and I think he got some benefit from that.

Seventy percent of the Hispanic viewing population wants to be addressed in their language and in their culture by candidates. Obama has been doing spots in Spanish. My wife is Hispanic and she is very attuned to accent. And she was struck by how well [Obama] speaks Spanish. He read the spot as though he was comfortable in the language. And that resonates very well, as I think it did with George Bush.

Have you seen any McCain ads en Español?

I have not. Obviously, Obama has a lot more on the air than McCain does. But I have not seen McCain speak Spanish in a spot.

There have been all sorts of historical milestones in the 2008 election, from Obama's candidacy, to Hillary Clinton's historic run, to Sarah Palin's arrival on the Republican ticket. Do you think we're at a turning point in our cultural identity in America?

I've been a journalist most of my career, and I got into this business back in the early '60s during the civil rights movement. Voter registration was a very courageous part of the movement because it required people to take a lot of risks. So fast-forward to 2008, and an African-American is running for president and is a leading candidate. Journalists and media have a tremendous role in informing. In the 1960s and 1970s during the civil rights movement, there was CBS News and NBC News. There were two [major] sources of television coverage. In the Spanish-language world, there are really only primarily two major Spanish-language networks that are making this kind of scale of coverage commitment, and it's critically important.

Clearly, McCain's backpedaling on his own immigration bill is something the Obama campaign has used in its effort to attract Hispanic voters.

It was clear from the very beginning, even in the primaries, that Hispanics could be the game-changer in this election if somebody figured that out. Not only is the population exploding, but within the Hispanic community there's a sense of emergence, a sense of belonging, a real sense of their own empowerment. And that's a very interesting change of attitude.

And not to be too judgmental, but if you don't get that, you're clearly missing out on a huge game-changing opportunity.

Obama's mixed heritage would seem to connect him in a visceral way to America's growing multicultural population.

I think that's true. A lot of people who are first- and second-generation Hispanics still relate very much back to their countries of origin. It's going to be interesting.

But I think Obama kind of gets it. We were hoping that his money would come in a little earlier. But it's certainly coming in. And it's money very well spent.

How has the reporting been across the board pre-election?

I think there has been a lot of good reporting. And I think there's been a lot of good spoofing of the coverage, too. It's kind of bizarre that people are feeling like they're getting more news from [David] Letterman and [Jay] Leno and Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Sometimes it's hard to know when one begins and the other ends. In the Hispanic world, we're more straight down the line.

Clearly, if you watch Fox [News] and you watch CNN and you watch MSNBC, each organization is trying to catch a niche. If you tune in to Fox and then you tune in to MSNBC, it's almost like a philosophical tennis match. And somewhere in all of that you've got to figure it out for yourself.