Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Democrats look to buy back Latino voters’ love

If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

After watching Hispanic voters embrace Republicans, liberal activists are cheering a new George Soros-backed effort to buy Spanish-language radio stations, saying it should help counter “disinformation” they blame for swaying a once reliable Democratic voting bloc.

“The sale of 18 AM and FM radio stations to Latino Media Network will help us ensure that mis/disinformation isn’t running rampant through Spanish-language radio across Florida and the United States,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Vice Chair of Policy Darren Soto said in a statement backing the purchase attempt. “As we’ve seen in the past, these efforts to target our communities are extremely dangerous.”

But conservatives say the only danger Democrats feel is political.

“This is not about disinformation. This is about power, this is about control, this is about funneling Hispanics into ‘approved’ sources of news and entertainment,” said Jorge Bonilla, who tracks Spanish-language media trends for the Media Research Center as director of MRC Latino.

The group attempting the purchase is the Latino Media Network run by Stephanie Valencia and Jess Morales Rocketto, who lack experience running radio networks but do have deep roots on the political side, having worked for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and on immigrant-rights issues.

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LMN raised an eye-popping $80 million to launch its venture, including financing from Lakestar Finance, which has ties to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. LMN’s mission statement is broad, proposing to “help Latinos make sense of the world and their place in it.”

“The network will embrace cultural pride by telling Latino stories, addressing community concerns and talking about opportunities for a better future,” the organization said.

LMN didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times, but the founders have made clear in interviews with other outlets that they consider battling “disinformation” to be a chief goal.

Ms. Valencia has complained about comparisons between Democrats’ increasingly liberal policies and “socialism,” calling it “uncontested propaganda” in a 2021 interview with NBC.

Conservatives say the socialism argument helped peel away Hispanic support for Democrats in 2020, as many voters worried that Democrats’ leftward drift was inching closer to the kind of regimes they or their families had fled.

“If you believe the Democratic Party is now socialist, that’s not disinformation,” said Emilio Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant who ran U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for President George W. Bush and then was city manager of Miami.

“They’re trying to put a kibosh on the narrative that Republicans drawing more and more Hispanics, and the best way to put a kibosh on that is to buy radio stations,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Two Miami radio stations, WAQI and WQBA, are among the 18 stations LMN has purchased. WAQI, or Radio Mambi, is a particularly prominent voice for the conservative Cuban community in Miami, and figures within the community have denounced the sale as an attempt to silence their voices.

Amid the backlash, LMN has said it respects the stations’ role in the community.

“The stations we acquired in Miami have been institutions in the Cuban community for decades and Cuba’s freedom is one of their flagship issues,” the group said in a statement last month. “We believe wholeheartedly in that mission, and we will remain true to that spirit of liberty that has guided them over decades.”

The drumbeat among Democrats about “disinformation” among Spanish-language voters has increased in the months since the 2020 election, even reaching the heights of the Homeland Security Department, where Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited it as he revealed his ill-fated disinformation board to Congress this spring.

“I just read a very interesting study that underscores the importance of the point that you make, the spread of myths and disinformation in minority communities specifically,” Mr. Mayorkas told a congresswoman as he announced the existence of the board.

Amid a ferocious backlash, he put the board on ice.

But Democrats are still desperate to see someone take on what they see as false narratives being fed to Spanish-language voters.

“Lies cost lives,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement last month urging the Federal Communications Commission to approve the sale of the 18 stations to LMN.

Republican lawmakers countered with a letter to the FEC urging it to “thoroughly scrutinize” the sale, casting it as a political play for Democratic voters.

Roughly 40 million U.S. residents speak Spanish at home, making it the second most common primary language behind English. A massive media infrastructure has built up around that audience, with entertainment and news.

It’s not just politicos who are interested in grabbing a share of the market.

Just days after the LMN sale announcement, Cox Media Group said it had signed a deal to affiliate stations in Seattle and Jacksonville with Telemundo, which along with Univision makes up the two major Spanish-language networks.

Analysts said Cox’s move seemed to be about business, while LMN’s purchase smacked of politics. That’s partly because many of the stations LMN is buying aren’t profitable, Mr. Bonilla said.

The 18 stations in the deal cover 10 U.S. cities: New York; Miami; Houston; Chicago; Las Vegas; Los Angeles and Fresno in California; and Dallas, San Antonio and McAllen in Texas.

Mr. Bonilla said English-language news consumers would also be surprised at how the news is covered on the major Spanish-language outlets, with a drift deep into advocacy territory, particularly in pushing for leniency to illegal immigrants.

He said that’s natural for the networks, both of which need new eyeballs to sustain their business model. Most U.S.-born Hispanics tend to consume their news and entertainment in English, so that means the Spanish-language networks need newcomers, Mr. Bonilla said — and the legality of their entry is not particularly relevant.

For years, Democrats and Republicans competed for those voters on the issue of immigration, figuring leniency was the way to Latino voters’ hearts.

Mr. Bonilla said former President Donald Trump upended that, vowing a get-tough approach. Mr. Bonilla said that forced the GOP to approach Latinos on a deeper level on other issues, and they discovered they had plenty to say about economic opportunity and a core set of social issues where Latino voters were natural allies.

“The Soros-backed group is clearly a desperation play,” he said. “The Democratic party is bleeding Hispanic voters at an alarming clip, and the left is simply out of options as far as how to engage Hispanics that have always been more socially conservative.”

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