The Booing: María Elena Salinas Lashes Out

After nearly a week's worth of controversy, Univision anchor María Elena Salinas has seen fit to address the pushback to portions of her commencement speech at Cal State Fullerton. Unfortunately, Salinas' opinion column leaves much to be desired, and raises new concerns instead of resolving old ones.

Before we get into the substance of the pushback in Salinas' column, though, it is important to understand what actually happened.

In sum, an elite member of two distinct political classes (establishment media, political Latino) spoke candidly in front of an ethnically and politically diverse audience, and portions of her speech encountered the sort of pushback that occurs within the free marketplace of ideas. That was it, pure and simple.

The speech could best be characterized as political, clearly framed within the Latino ethnopolitical construct. The speech contained portions that were delivered entirely in Spanish, odes to diversity, justifications of biases in reporting the news, and specific recommendations as to choices of political candidates.

Although not particularly outrageous or offensive, the speech was a performance of leftist virtue-signaling, the type of which we normally see within certain specific cloistered confines such as newsrooms and scripted entertainment. Academia could be considered another such safe environment, but this was a graduation and not a lecture.

The media's rush to cover for Salinas only exacerbated the controversy. All coverage pointed to a very brief snippet of Salinas' speech before the School of Communications (where some of the booing occurred), but misses her prior remarks to the entire graduating class, and which are available in their entirety. It is these remarks which contain some of the bases for what happened later on:

MARIA ELENA SALINAS, UNNIVISION ANCHOR: Who knows? Maybe the first Hispanic president is among you. Or the first...

UNIDENTIFIED CAL STATE FULLERTON GRADUATE: Wooooooooo!

MARIA ELENA SALINAS, UNIVISION ANCHOR:  ...could be you. Or the first Asian-American president. Maybe. Sorry, but the spot for the first African-american president has been filled, and the one for the first woman president or the first Jewish-American socialist president is around the corner. And those are the only choices, by the way..

You should know that the featured image at the top of the post captures the exact moment in which a smiling Salinas leans back and basks in the cheering subsequent to her "no other choices" dig at Donald Trump. That remark has to be considered when looking at the later reference to the media being accused of "creating" Trump. The OC Weekly's Denise de la Cruz certainly did when covering the event:

Besides, Trump-hate was on her mind; in her campus-wide speech earlier that day, Salinas told the crowd that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton "are the only choices" for president while flashing a smile, then followed up with praise for the graduates because "you are the ones who are going to build bridges, not walls,"

Salinas' initial response was to deal the racism card from the bottom of the deck. Unfortunately, her subsequent response was to berate the reporter and try to get her to walk back her firsthand coverage of the event.

I was even more surprised when the reporter said my speech was too Latino-centric and "blatantly anti-Trump", and when she claims that I began offering advice to journalism students to "use the tools of media to rebut political figures such as Donald Trump." Interesting.

De La Cruz and her editor are very excited that her story made national headlines with such prestigious publications as the Washington Post, The Hill, LatinoUSA, The Los Angeles Times and La Opinion, to name a few. I'm sure she'll have a great future in the business. But do we see a lesson here in accurate reporting? Should journalists skip the facts and just provide their personal interpretation of what happened, regardless of the consequences? Granted there is nothing wrong with reporting on how my comments were perceived, but do we just completely erase the already blurred lines between opinion and factual reporting?

Let's set aside, if only for a moment, the feigned shock at the use of the "some say" narrative device and the condescending head-pat. Instead, drink in the delicious irony of an establishment journalist whose network trades chiefly in the "no two sides" school of journalism, and who is complicit in blurring the lines between opinion and factual reporting (see "anti-immigrant"). Good on the OC Weekly for pushing back:

*Editor's note: Salinas is publicly complaining that we misinterpreted her College of Communications speech incorrectly, and that she never attacked Trump. We never said she did; we specifically said that she "began offering advice to journalism students to use the tools of media to rebut political figures such as Donald Trump," and that boo-birds popped up when she mentioned his name. Salinas' quote we paraphrased—the one she said we misinterpreted—is as follows: "Thanks to technology, now we can prove that the candidate actually said what he or she said they didn't say." Sure sounds like advice to students about rebutting candidates! In the next breath, she mentioned Trump—and there you go.

Salinas closes the column with yet another virtue signal (a nod to diversity), and another dig at Trump (by noting that diversity is, in fact, what Makes America Great). Instead of hectoring a young reporter via national column, I am hopeful that Salinas would take this opportunity to realize that the right to free speech is not a guarantee of uncontested speech. Sometimes, your audience is just not going to be into what you have to say - and the marketplace of ideas provides freedom to express that.

Perhaps we can all agree that free speech and a free press are truly a part of what Makes America Great.

Tell the Truth 2016

 

P.S: I am including a full transcript of Salinas' column just in case Univision decides to disappear it, like it did her column after Jorge Ramos' summer of 2015 brouhaha with Donald Trump.

What defines me as a person is being a proud Latina. Growing up in a bilingual bi-cultural environment in Los Angeles made me have a special appreciation for two cultures and two sets of traditions that blend into one. What defines me as a journalist is my quest to seek the truth, question authority, denounce injustice and uncover corruption. I'm in the business of reporting the news not making news. However I feel the need to talk about an incident that addresses both the importance of having pride in our cultural heritage and accuracy in reporting.

When I was invited by Cal State Fullerton to give the commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class and receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters I was thrilled. I was so honored to go back to the state where I was born, where I have my childhood memories and where I began my career in Spanish language television.

What made it all the more special is that Cal State Fullerton is number one in graduating Latino students in the state of California, number five in the country. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and providing my own scholarship for the last two decades through the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, it was a proud moment to see that more than 30% of the graduates were Hispanic, and over 40% of those students were graduating from the school of communication.

I shared my personal story with the students and gave them words of advice. I spoke to them about some of the challenges they might face. I reminded them that they are the leaders of tomorrow and how I am inspired by what an amazing generation they are. I wanted them to feel empowered and leave there believing that they can conquer the world. I took a minute in my speech to address the parents of the Latino students in Spanish, to congratulate them and tell them how their sacrifices were paying off.

I was asked by the University if I could also spend a couple of minutes addressing the school of communications after the main commencement address. Having had the honor just a few weeks before to be the commencement speaker at American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. and receiving many messages from students who felt moved and inspired by my words I wanted to have the same positive impact on Cal State students.

I told them they are the ones who will be re-inventing media. I spoke to them about what motivated me to go into the news business. And I warned them against using news coverage of the current election as an example of what "fair and balanced" journalism should be.

Now, what I said after that set off a slew of reactions that frankly have me a bit bewildered. During my remarks I heard some yelling coming from the bleachers where the families were seated but couldn't make out what they said. I continued giving my assessment of how the media is treated like “Public Enemy No. 1” every four years during election time. I said “they accuse us of misinterpreting what candidates said, but thanks to technology now we can prove that they said what he or she claim they didn't say. Now we are even being accused of creating Donald Trump, imagine that". Before closing I took a moment again to congratulate, in Spanish, those students who recently began to put together a Spanish language newscast at the school. I took a selfie with them and said good bye.

Later on that day I saw a message on my Twitter feed from student Denise De La Cruz, a graduate who reports for OC Weekly, who thanked me for my "bold speech" and asked what I thought about backlash from audience members. I never considered my speech to be "bold" and had no clue there had been a "backlash."

Needless to say I was perplexed when I began to see my social media light up in a battlefield between attackers and defenders of my so-called backlash all coming from an article De La Cruz wrote with a catchy headline stating that I was booed at Grad Speech and spoke of "racial tension," that frankly I did not perceive.

I was even more surprised when the reporter said my speech was too Latino-centric and "blatantly anti-Trump", and when she claims that I began offering advice to journalism students to "use the tools of media to rebut political figures such as Donald Trump." Interesting.

My inquisitive mind made me reach out to her on Twitter and tell her through direct message how I think it’s good bold journalism to write about what you saw. But where did she get that I was bashing Trump? She explained that because she was writing in first person perspective, what she provided was "her interpretation." She adds: "I understand that from now on and depending on what style of writing a story holds, I should be more careful with my interpretation and the facts." Not a bad idea.

De la Cruz argues that me saying the media is blamed for creating Trump, holds anti-Trump sentiments. So, where did she get the part that I was "recommending students to use the tools of the media to rebut candidates like Trump?" De la Cruz's answer to me reads like this: "I believe I got that from the sentence about how we use technology to report what candidates really said, which then could imply using the tools of media/technology to rebut candidates such as Trump." In other words, she did not report what I said, but what she thought I was implying. What people read is her interpretation of what I said.

De La Cruz and her editor are very excited that her story made national headlines with such prestigious publications as the Washington Post, The Hill, LatinoUSA, The Los Angeles Times and La Opinion, to name a few. I'm sure she'll have a great future in the business. But do we see a lesson here in accurate reporting? Should journalists skip the facts and just provide their personal interpretation of what happened, regardless of the consequences? Granted there is nothing wrong with reporting on how my comments were perceived, but do we just completely erase the already blurred lines between opinion and factual reporting? I don't think that's what I meant when I said young journalists are going to re-invent the news business.

By the way, this is a perfect example of how new age technology, through the smartphone lense, can be used to show what was actually said. I hope somebody got that message.

To those who felt uncomfortable with me pronouncing a few lines in Spanish, I meant no disrespect. Hispanics are now a majority in California, with almost 15 million Latinos living there, and Spanish is the state’s second most spoken language. In my 35 years as a broadcast journalist I know first-hand the struggles of Hispanic immigrant families to make sure their children receive a college education. In many cases they are the 1st ones in their family to receive that diploma. It is a moment of pride like no other to see them graduate.

I must admit it is a bit disappointing to see the reaction my words caused both among some of the students at the graduation and the hundreds of people that took to social media with a fierce vengeance to comment on something they didn't witness and were ill informed about.

The strength of our country lies in its diversity. It is wonderful that immigrant families from all over the world embrace their cultural heritage with all its sounds, scents and flavors. Celebrating St. Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Oktoberfest, Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo and many others along with Thanksgiving and Fourth of July, that's what makes America a great country, that is what makes America the great country that it is.

Something that Denise De La Cruz and I have in common is that we are both Latinas that are proud of our cultural heritage. "Mi papá loved your speech by the way," she told me. "It was nice for him to be addressed in his language." De nada Denise.

Tell the Truth 2016 NB Daily MRC Latino 2016 Presidential Immigration Media Bias Debate Corporate Liberalism Double Standards La Raza Hispanic Media Univision California Journalistic Issues Government & Press Maria Elena Salinas
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