Univision's latest two-part report on the plight of displaced Puerto Ricans in Central Florida falls flat, in large part, due to its transparently brazen effort to turn tragedy in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria into a political commodity.
The last time we took notice of network correspondent Lourdes Del Río, she was in Puerto Rico filing a puff piece on the radical, separatist mayor of San Juan. Del Río now finds herself in Central Florida, specifically, Orlando and Kissimmee - home to a large number of Americans that found themselves displaced by the monster storm.
During the two-part report which aired on Edición Nocturna (Univision's late-night newscast), Del Río spoke to several displaced families, as well as a sociologist from the University of Central Florida. Despite the fact that the displaced families discussed their issues with FEMA, no elected officials were interviewed for this story.
Instead, for the partisan portion of the interview, Del Río turned to Maritza Sanz of Latino Leadership, who had this to say in closing:
LOURDES DEL RIO, UNIVISION CORRESPONDENT: Maritza Sanz has been in contact with recently arrived Puerto Ricans from Day One.
MARITZA SANZ, LATINO LEADERSHIP: The first thing they'll tell you sometimes is when they talk about the humiliation that they felt. "You know, we're humiliated because of how this President treated us. Now we'll be able to tell him how we felt when he threw the paper towels at us."
DEL RIO: The process for activating these Puerto Ricans so that they register and vote will be long and tedious. But when it bears fruit, there no one will doubt the creation of a political force that will be difficult to ignore. In Orlando, Florida: Lourdes Del Rio, Univision.
The entire story was built around the premise of a future big blue wave fueled by Puerto Rican evacuees in Central Florida, and Sanz' remarks are central to that premise (never mind the documented eyewitness refutation of the presidential paper towel toss). But the problem is that Del Río actually spoke to several evacuee families for the report, and none were shown to harbor the outrages that Sanz describes. Couldn't Del Río have found some evacuees to describe the "humiliations" that Sanz so eagerly puts in their mouths?
Voter registration figures in Central Florida suggest that newly-arrived Puerto Ricans are more concerned with rebuilding their lives than being turned into Democratic electoral chatte l- an inconvenient fact that seems to have escaped Del Río.
Instead of trying to prop up a narrative in service of an agenda, Del Río could have gone into the community, spoken to local enterpreneurs as well as elected officials, and truly conveyed to Univision's viewers a sense for what is really happening on the ground.
In many ways, it is only fitting that Univision's graphics department listed Del Río as reporting from Miami instead of Orlando. Univision's reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is plagued by its inability to see beyond its nose.