Fox News Can’t Decide Whether to Love or Hate Latinos

The big lesson? You can't have it both ways.

By Jorge Rivas Jan 21, 2011

Fox News Latino has only been around for a few months, but it’s already become a hotbed of controversy. It’s less than a year old, and was created to target Latino audiences with news from both the U.S. and Central and South America. Yet while the it does the uncomfortable dance of trying to court more Latino viewers, that effort likely gets swallowed by the larger network’s venomous approach to important issues like the DREAM Act and border violence. Now, Media Matters is pushing for the network to make up its mind.

Fox News is the most-watched cable news channel in the country. In 2009-2010 the network surpassed CNN and MSNBC’s weekly viewership. A study released this week by Public Policy Polling found that PBS is the most trusted news outlet the U.S., followed by Fox News. (Fox News is the second-most trusted network, but also the most distrusted one, with 42 percent trusting it and 46 percent not trusting it.)

Last month they ran a story saying Spanish Actress Penélope Cruz was going to give birth to an "anchor baby," but after some uproar from a group of Latino conservatives Fox News retracted the entire story, and today there is no sign of the story on their site.

Back when the network launched its Latino website, its leadership seemed optimistic.

"The launch of Fox News Latino creates an unprecedented opportunity to expand our reach by engaging the fastest growing minority audience and providing a unique platform for compelling and original content focused on the Latino community and the American dream," said Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente in a statement.

But of course, very little of that optimism has shown through to any coverage that’s "fair and balanced," to go along with the network’s slogan.

They provide airtime to hosts and pundits who are anti-immigration or "anti-amnesty," as they would call it — views that could be in conflict with the same audience they’re trying to reach with Fox News Latino. 

"I don’t think there’ll be conflict," Clemente told Reuters in an interview. "We will do what we always do on the news side which is to be very fair and balanced on all sides of the issue in our reporting."

Another study found Fox News viewers are much more likely than others to believe false information about U.S. politics.

Take the DREAM Act, for instance. Media Matters found that from Nov. 23 through Dec. 1, 2010, Fox gave DREAM Act opponents more than 40 minutes of airtime versus about seven minutes for supporters. Host Sean Hannity called the DREAM Act a "free college education" and "basically amnesty." Doug McKelway of Special Report called it a "free ride to college. But in fact the DREAM Act would’ve never provided any "free" grants to students.

And sometimes the hosts just go for knee-jerking acts. Bill O’Reilly dedicated several segments of prime time television to discrediting Nicky Diaz, former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s undocumented housekeeper. O’Reilley went as far as asking U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano what she was going do about "the highest profile illegal alien" in the country, and made her promise that she would look in to Diaz’s case.

But Fox News Latino told Diaz’s story in a completely different light. For starters, Diaz was an "undocumented housekeeper" and "mystery maid" ‘who "Whitman abruptly fired," not an "illegal alien," as she was identified on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor. Fox News Latino also painted Diaz in a good light when Whitman settled with her for unpaid wages. "Whitman settles with housekeeper for chump change" the headline read.

This week Media Matters looked at the dichotomy of the coverage on both Fox News and Fox News Latino when they reported news that the family of a Mexican teenager who was shot and killed by a border patrol agent for allegedly throwing rocks at them is filing a wrongful death suit.

Media Matters’ Simon Maloy points out that Fox News Latino reported news of the lawsuit in a "straightforward manner," but on Fox News the tone was much more incendiary:

Yesterday on Fox News’ Happening Now, anchor Jon Scott conducted an interview with the slain teenager’s family’s attorney. In introducing the combative segment, Scott referred to undocumented immigrants simply as "illegals" — a dehumanizing shorthand frequently encountered on the network — and aired several grainy video clips of rocks being thrown at the U.S./Mexico border. Remember, the family attorney denies the claim that the boy threw rocks and that the video of the shooting corroborates this. But Fox News aired other video clips of other people throwing rocks at the border. 

It seems like the "conflict" Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente said wouldn’t occur has manifested itself. Their solution to avoid conflict may just be that Fox News Latino not cover all the news Fox News covers; current top news stories on Fox News Latino includes stories about childhood obesity, pop singers being arrested, physic octopus and political prisoners in Cuba, none of which are present on Fox News. The big lesson here? You just can’t have it both ways.