A Parade, A Terrorist, and a Boycott: The Truth About The MRC's Role

June 8th, 2017 11:14 AM

MRC Latino's relentless oversight of Univision's fawning coverage of convicted FALN terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, of the network's undisclosed sponsorship of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, and of the fallout over the Parade's reckless decision to honor Lopez as its first-ever "National Freedom Hero" led to some pretty wild conspiracy theories in response, pushed primarily by stunned supporters of Lopez. Join us as we set the record straight.

Supporters of Oscar Lopez Rivera were left reeling after a wild 10 days in which the main corporate sponsors of the Parade followed Goya Foods and jumped ship. One such supporter is powerful New York City political consultant Luis Miranda- founder of the MirRam Group (and proud papa of celebrated Broadway playwright Lin-Manuel), who offered up this pile of hot garbage in response to our coverage of the Parade:

In this climate where facts have been replaced by fabricated news, and Twitter is a powerful weapon, it is not difficult to hire a media company like the Media Research Center (MRC), to orchestrate a smear campaign and mobilize leaders in Puerto Rico who are pro-statehood, as well as Latino conservatives anywhere who genuinely believe that it is not a good idea to honor Don Oscar in the Parade. It takes little effort to call and intimidate companies sponsoring the Parade. For these right-wing fighters, victory comes as the headlines read “(Fill in the Blank) has withdrawn from the Parade”. For many of them, real dialogue is not important; after all, they choose to speak in 140 characters.

Thus was born a wild conspiracy theory: that it was the MRC which orchestrated the evil plot to pressure corporations who would've otherwise been happy to celebrate Saint Oscar of Humboldt Park. Even embattled New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito parroted that point- but it remains false and never had any basis in truth.

First of all, no one hired us to do anything. A basic search of our archives shows that we've been analyzing the media's coverage of Lopez Rivera since May of last year. (Note, especially, our coverage of how Univision covered the announced commutation of Lopez Rivera's prison term, and of his post-release interview at the side of a glowing Luis Gutierrez- which, in fact, may have violated the terms of his house arrest.)

Our first Parade-related piece ran a full two weeks after the Board announced the "Hero" award, which blows any coordination or leadership theories out of the water. As I have said to multiple outlets, our sole direct action against a campaign sponsor was limited to Univision, whose national news coverage continued to fawn over Lopez Rivera while remaining as a Parade sponsor and not disclosing that sponsorship to its viewers. Our action lasted all of two days, after which Univision pulled out, with Telemundo deciding that it didn't want any of that heat and pulling out as well. And that was it.

In the face of catastrophic failure, it is far easier to conjure up a conspiracy theory than it is to admit the truth: that the decision to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera as a "National Freedom Hero" was a major misread of the will of the Puerto Rican community. This broad, multisectorial rejection was not limited to statehooders, Trumpists, and "ultra right-wingers", but was voiced by independence supporters as well. No longer does a tiny elite get to dictate to the Puerto Rican community who its heroes are. In the meantime, we remain watchful.

Here's video from our recent interview on NY1 Noticias, in which we make these same points on the Parade's home-court:

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ, ANCHOR, NY1 NOTICIAS: A fair amount of sponsors and politicians have pulled out of this year's edition of the parade, unsettled by the parade board's initial decision to honor Lopez Rivera. The board has accused the conservative Media Research Center of being behind a smear and boycott campaign. We are joined via Skype by Jorge Bonilla, a contributor at the Media Research Center, which is, as we said, a conservative organization that condemns and watches for what it claims is progressive and liberal bias in the media. Jorge, what role has your organization played in the boycott against this year's parade?

JORGE BONILLA, CONTRIBUTING ANALYST, MRC LATINO: Hello. First of all, thank you for having me here. First and foremost, I would like to clarify that charges such as those made by the Parade board and, for example, (NYC Council) Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito accusing us of being behind a smear campaign against the parade are false. They have no basis in reality and they are not truthful. As far as parade sponsors are concerned, our role was limited exclusively to Univision. Given that we are a media watchdog, we set out -first and foremost- to oversee the national coverage that Univision had given to the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, to the commutation of his sentence, to the manner in which his commutation was covered...without getting into the details of why he went to prison, but stating instead that he was simply imprisoned for his belief in independence for Puerto Rico, which is not true. And that's where our coverage of Lopez Rivera has been focused. If you look at the archives, you'll see that we've been covering that issue since January. As far as the Puerto Rican Parade is concerned, our initial coverage was centered around an article published by El Diario, when rumors begin to swirl that Goya Foods would pull its sponsorship from the parade. And if I recall correctly, it was Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., who first sounded the alarm that Goya might withdraw. It was at that point that we begin to cover the parade. Our focus has been limited to Univision and to the coverage that Univision has given the parade. Accusations that we are somehow leading a campaign to undermine or harm the parade are absolutely baseless.


JORGE BONILLA, CONTRIBUTING ANALYST, MRC LATINO: There has been an organic and multisectorial rejection to the Parade board's designation of Oscar Lopez Rivera as a "National Freedom Hero". I believe that it was an overreach to take what was a broad support by the people of Puerto Rico for commutation of his sentence, and then turn that into a "Hero" designation. A broad swath of people from the Puerto Rican community -throughout the island, and in New York, and in Central Florida where I live- were, quite frankly, outraged when this award was granted. When Oscar Lopez Rivera was interviewed live on the date of his release by TeleSur, and took a call from the Venezuelan tyrant Nicolás Maduro in which he showered praises and honors upon the Bolivarian regime- that rubbed many people the wrong way. That turned out to be toxic. And I think that what we have here is a gross miscalculation by the Parade board, due to their assumption that there was going to be this broad support for this hero designation for Oscar Lopez Rivera, and that is certainly reflected in what has been this rejection of this honor. I certainly believe in the Parade. As a native of Williamsburg (Brooklyn), I recognize that the parade is an institution, it is a great cultural legacy with the Puerto Rican community...

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ, ANCHOR, NY1 NOTICIAS: So Jorge, do you think it is enough... is it enough that Lopez Rivera said that he's going to reject the "National Freedom Hero" honor but will still march? Do you think this is good enough for persons such as yourself who were against the Parade's decision to honor him or recognize him at this Parade?

JORGE BONILLA, CONTRIBUTING ANALYST, MRC LATINO: I don't know whether it's good enough but I can tell you that this was the only honorable out remaining here. Either Oscar leaves voluntarily or the parade board pulls the honor, which by the way I did not believe would ever happen. But I think that the ideal thing to happen here would've been for the parade board to have had a better sense of the pulse of the Puerto Rican community, and to have never bestowed this award in the first place, and then all this sadness and outrage and misunderstanding could have been avoided. There are people within the community that were far worthier of such an award or designation. One such person who comes to mind is Yadira Arroyo, the Bronx EMT who died in the line of duty...as someone whose name should have been plastered throughout every last corner of the Parade, for example. She was certainly far worthier than Oscar Lopez Rivera.

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ, ANCHOR, NY1 NOTICIAS: What many people also do not understand is that for years, the parade called for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, and now this whole controversy arises when he is set to march in the parade, after having been released, and with that title. Isn't there a transposition of a political battle between the two major parties in Puerto Rico? A transposition of the political battle which is set on that same date, on that June 11th, for a referendum on independence or statehood? Isn't that also now being transferred on to Fifth Avenue, to the Puerto Rican parade on that same date- Sunday, June 11?

JORGE BONILLA, CONTRIBUTING ANALYST, MRC LATINO: Perhaps. Perhaps there is an element of that, inasmuch as we are certainly not going to deny that part of the people that oppose the designation of Oscar Lopez Rivera and that have been engaged on social media are also supporters of the pro-statehood movement in Puerto Rico. We're not going to try to hide the sun with our hand. But I will certainly say this again: the rejection of this honor was broad, it was multisectorial, and to go back to your earlier point about the calls for his release in years past… I'll say it again- it is one thing to support the commutation of his sentence- I think that this was a brilliantly executed campaign that channeled the inherent nobility of the Puerto Rican people...that noble heart, that willingness to forgive and turn the page, and that sense of "Ay Bendito". And an "Ay Bendito" narrative was created: "Ay Bendito, but Oscar's been in for so long", "Ay Bendito, it's been 35 years...let grandpa get out and see his granddaughter and be free." It is one thing to support his release, which I believe was an 80% issue in Puerto Rico, that's one thing. But from there to say that he is a hero, and for the Parade and a tiny elite in New York to want to attribute that and shove him down the throats of the entire community and say, "this is your Hero", that is an overreach, and is why we've seen what we have seen with the Parade.

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ, ANCHOR, NY1 NOTICIAS: Jorge Bonilla, contributor at the Media Research Center, thank you for joining us.

JORGE BONILLA, CONTRIBUTING ANALYST, MRC LATINO: My pleasure, thank you for having me.