This sordid story about Spanish-language news outlet Univision allegedly blackmailing Sen. Marco Rubio is a few days old, but it’s getting renewed attention now that Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Hunstman announced they’re boycotting Univision’s GOP debate as a protest.
Here’s a quick recap: Over the summer, Univision reportedly contacted Rubio and tried to persuade him to appear on Al Punto, a show hosted by illegal immigration advocate Jorge Ramos. Ramos is a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act; Rubio is a vocal opponent. To make the TV appearance more attractive to Rubio, Univision allegedly sent its investigative team to dig up dirt on the senator’s brother-in-law’s decades-old drug arrest. The station’s executives reportedly suggested if Rubio appeared on the show, the news report on his brother-in-law would disappear.
Rubio declined, and Univision ran with the drug story, hyping it for days. The report wasn’t damaging to Rubio’s career – prominent mainstream outlets refused to pick it up because it was stale, irrelevant, and had happened when Rubio was only 16-years-old. But it was apparently devastating for his family, especially Rubio’s sister, whose husband was suddenly all over the news for a drug arrest that took place in 1987.
The Miami Herald first reported on the details of the conference call between Rubio’s office and Univision executives when the quid pro quo was allegedly offered:
On July 7, Alex Burgos, Rubio’s communications director, and Rubio’s political advisor, Todd Harris, held a 45-minute conference call with a handful of top Univision editorial staffers, including Lee, the news chief who handled most of the discussions for Univision. …
Toward the end of the conversation, Lee brought up Ramos’ show and suggested the drug-bust story could change — or not run at all, according to Harris and Burgos’ notes.
Said Harris: “You’re saying that if Marco does an interview with Ramos, that you will drop this investigation into his family and the story will never air?”
Lee, they say, responded with this statement: “While there are no guarantees, your understanding of the proposal is fair.”
Univision’s President of News Isaac Lee denied this account of the conversation. But other Univision staffers vouched for it to the Herald off the record:
But the Univision sources, with knowledge of the discussions, affirmed Harris’ version of events.
“We were stunned,’’ one Univision executive said. “Can you imagine how embarrassing it is?” …
It was also dispiriting. The employees said the story cast a pall over the Doral newsroom because this was its first investigative project, and many questioned the story’s news value.
Horrible. This has to be one of the worst ethical lapses someone could possibly commit in journalism. If true, Univision will not – and should not – recover from this scandal without internal changes and a lot of contrition. Based on the reports so far, the Republican candidates seem justified in skipping the debate. And until Univision takes steps to investigate and deal with the accusations, other political figures and journalists might consider steering clear as well.