Media Matters is taking a closer look at Latino news.
The research group known for calling out what it considers “conservative misinformation” in the mass media launched a Hispanic engagement initiative on Monday aimed at undermining what it views as attempts by rightwing organizations to influence Latinos through Spanish-language media and digital upstarts with diverse audiences.
The new initiative will monitor not just conservative-leaning media outlets, but also the Spanish-language giants Univision and Telemundo, along with the newer wave of digital outlets that prioritize engaging Hispanics, like BuzzFeed, Fox News Latino, Fusion and The Huffington Post.
“Media has to be more critical of stories that relate to Hispanics and not traffic in poorly vetted stories and misinformation,” Miguel Ferrer, a senior adviser to Media Matters, told The Huffington Post. "A lot of this rightwing distortion as it relates to media has assumed that nobody’s checking."
Ferrer is a former vice president of digital media at Fusion and a former managing editor at The Huffington Post’s Latino Voices and Spanish-language Voces sections.
The new program will highlight the lack of Latino voices in mass media, contest stereotypes and challenge what it views as biased presentations of issues that concern Latinos. Media Matters cited the case of the Libre Initiative when explaining the need for the program.
A conservative group that aims to increase Latino political engagement and presses for individualistic values, the Libre Initiative has been widely cited in mass media as a voice representing Latino conservatives.
“We know Hispanics want the American dream, but there’s a system, and it’s called free enterprise, that allows them to access that dream,” Rachel Campos-Duffy, a Libre spokeswoman, said on Fox News in a clip cited by Media Matters. “So we promote self-reliance.”
Libre Initiative’s director and public face, Daniel Garza, has urged fellow conservatives to get behind immigration reform efforts.
But Media Matters takes issue with news outlets presenting the group as a “grassroots organization,” pointing out in materials prepared for Monday’s launch that the group is funded by the Koch brothers -- billionaire industrialists often derided by the left. The Koch brothers fund other groups that vigorously oppose President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Media Matters views as a key issue for Hispanics. Media Matters described progressive organizations like the National Council of La Raza and Voto Latino as more representative of public opinion in the Latino community.
The Libre Initiative declined an interview, but disputed the characterization of the group in an emailed statement from Garza, the group's executive director.
"Maybe if Media Matters had shown any interest in talking to one of the thousands of people we've helped obtain a driver's license, learn English, celebrate Thanksgiving, develop a household budget, or receive a health care checkup, they would have discovered what we are really up to -- building up our Latino communities to become self-reliant, informed, defenders of America's free market legacy," the statement reads
Media Matters also criticized the Spanish-language media’s coverage of Republican Jeb Bush as he prepares for a 2016 presidential campaign, saying that outlets like Univision and Spain’s El País have framed him as a “Hispanic candidate” by focusing only on his favorable view of immigration reform and the fact that his wife is Mexican.
But Bush’s more conservative positions on climate change and Obama’s health care reform received far less attention from Univision, Media Matters says.
A poll conducted last year by The New York Times, Stanford University and the environmental research group Resources for the Future shows that 63 percent of Hispanics favor government action to curb climate change, Media Matters points out.
The group also noted that the expansion of health insurance under Obama’s reform has disproportionately affected the Latino community, though polling data does not reflect the same widespread support.
A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project found that 47 percent of respondents supported the health care law -- a figure that topped the general public’s support, at 41 percent, but fell short of a majority.