When Obama won reelection, Bill O'Reilly offered a racial analysis: "The white establishment is now the minority, and the voters -- many of them -- feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff." O'Reilly's argument was demonstrably false in at least two ways. Whites still make up a solid majority of U.S. voters, and Latinos use less than their fair share of government benefits. Playing to these inaccurate ethnic and racial stereotypes isn't a good way to build bridges with Hispanics.
In his interview with the New Republic, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes made the assumption that Latinos are a naturally conservative constituency that distrusts big government. In fact, polling suggests the opposite. A whopping 75 percent of Hispanics favor a larger government that provides more services, compared to just 41 percent of the general U.S. public, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Latinos are also more likely to describe themselves as liberal than the general public -- a pattern even more common among the native born than the foreign born. Mitt Romney tried hard to sell the small government message to Latino voters last year and failed. Will Fox News make a better case?
Fox News CEO said in his interview with the New Republic he views Latinos as an "essentially traditional audience" that "will go to Fox News for traditional American values." While Ailes didn't elaborate on what he meant by traditional, it would be a mistake to assume -- as many do -- that Latinos are by nature socially conservative. Exit polling after the presidential election confirmed that Latinos are becoming more socially liberal than the general public -- a pattern that will likely continue given that the U.S. Hispanic population skews young. Some 59 percent of Latino voters said their state should legalize same-sex marriage, versus 48 percent of the general public, according to ABC News. Latinos also backed legal abortion in larger numbers than the general public, with 66 percent support compared to 59 percent for all voters.
Fox News is at the complete opposite side of the spectrum from Latinos when it comes to immigration. More than 90 percent of likely Latino voters support the DREAM Act and 85 percent support a path to citizenship, according to a poll last year by... Fox News Latino. Meanwhile, Fox News personalities have traditionally railed against illegal immigration and maligned proposals for a path to citizenship as "amnesty." In blaring headlines, the Fox News website continues to refer to undocumented immigrants as "illegals," an epithet most major news agencies have dropped.
Fox News currently attracts less than 100,000 Latino viewers in prime time, according to the New Republic. While that figure is on par with its English-language competitors, it pales in comparison to Univision, which fields 2 million. The fact that Univision broadcasts in Spanish explains part of the gap. But there's also the fact that when Latino viewers watch Univision, they see fellow Hispanics on the screen. That's an experience that, for now, they don't get very often on Fox News.
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes wants more Latino viewers.
It isn’t surprising that Ailes sees the Hispanics as “a tremendous business opportunity,” as he told The New Republic in an interview published Monday. The country’s 50 million U.S. Latinos make up a $1 trillion market, according to Forbes Magazine.
But not unlike the Republican Party, Fox News has dug a hole for itself with Latinos that isn’t likely to disappear overnight.
For years, the channel has featured commentators like Sean Hannity that rail against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. The channel’s website routinely refers to the undocumented in headlines as “illegals” -- a term nearly half of Latinos view as offensive and one that, in the noun form, national news media have generally abandoned.
On election night, Bill O’Reilly lamented the decline of the “traditional white establishment” and portrayed Hispanics as dependent on government, saying they want “things” and “stuff” from the president. (The misconception is commonly spouted off by rightwing pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, but in fact Latinos use less than their fair share of government benefits.)
The attitudes of the Fox News viewership reflect those of its reporters and commentators. Fox News viewers were more likely than viewers of other mainstream news networks to view Latinos as welfare recipients, or to think they refuse to learn English, according to a study by Latino Decisions for the National Hispanic Media Coalition published in September. The authors write:
We find a consistent pattern whereby FOX News audiences are indeed more likely to hold negative stereotypes about Latinos compared to less ideologically oriented broadcast news networks. In addition, MSNBC and National Public Radio consumers hold significantly less negative opinions about Latinos in all instances tested.
Fox News has already taken several steps to make itself more palatable to Hispanics. It launched Fox News Latino, a news site aimed at English-dominant Hispanics, in October 2010. Last year it launched a Spanish-language channel, Mundo Fox.
After an election in which President Obama walloped GOP challenger Mitt Romney among Latinos, 71 percent to 27 percent, largely because of Romney’s extreme positions on immigration, Fox News personality Sean Hannity changed his tune and came out in support of a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
Indeed, there’s no reason to think that Fox News’ efforts won’t ultimately be successful. After all, many scoffed at the broadcaster when it launched in 1986, saying there wasn’t enough room in the market for a fourth news station. Fox News has now led broadcast news ratings for 11 consecutive years.
But if the network truly wants to reach Latino viewers, it’s going to run into a few obstacles. Check them out in the slideshow above.