Days before Univision aired a controversial story this summer about the decades-old drug bust of Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law, top staff with the Spanish-language media powerhouse offered what sounded like a deal to the U.S. senator’s staff.
If Rubio appeared on Al Punto — Univision’s national television show where the topic of immigration would likely be discussed — then the story of his brother-in-law’s troubles would be softened or might not run at all, according to Univision insiders and the Republican senator’s staff. They say the offer was made by Univision’s president of news, Isaac Lee.
But Lee said in an email to The Miami Herald that any insinuation that he offered a quid pro quo was “incorrect” and “defamatory.”
In a written statement Friday, Lee said: “With respect to Senator Rubio, Univision covered the story in the same objective, fair manner we cover every significant story. Univision did not offer to soften or spike a story...we would not make such an offer to any other subject of a news story and did not offer it in this case.”
Rubio never appeared on Al Punto, a national political affairs program broadcast on Sundays. Univision aired the story about Rubio’s brother-in-law, a lower-level player in a 1987 coke-and-pot ring, on July 11.
"I always knew Univision to be a professional organization until this happened," said Rubio, who won’t comment specifically on the case.
The conflict provides a rarely seen view of a politician warring with the press, and it also underscores the highly charged issue of immigration in the Hispanic community.
Al Punto’s host, Jorge Ramos, is one of Univision’s most-recognized personalities and has advocated for the so-called “DREAM Act,” which Rubio has opposed on the grounds that it gives “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. The long-debated proposal would allow certain children of undocumented immigrants to become legalized U.S. residents.
Univision, headquartered in Doral, is a top-rated network, reaching 95 percent of the 13.3 million Hispanic households in the United States. Its ratings are tops in prime-time in such cities as Los Angeles, San Antonio and Miami — regardless of language. It recently created an investigative team.
The Rubio brother-in-law story was its first investigation. The story about Rubio and his brother-in-law was broadcast in English and Spanish on television and the web over two days.
Univision also pointed the story out to the governor, and emailed reporters from Washington to Miami to highlight “Rubio’s families ties to narco-trafficking.” Univision hyped it on Twitter with the hashtag code "#rubio, # drugs."
Mainstream media sources and bloggers barely gave it play due to the quarter century-old nature of the case and the fact it had no apparent peg to current news.
Rubio found the story — and the resources devoted to it — especially shocking. He had actually worked for Univision as a paid commentator before he ran for Senate. He announced his candidacy for Senate on Univision’s Miami affiliate.
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