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How Univision and the White House Reconciled After “Softball” Trump Interview

How Univision and the White House Reconciled After “Softball” Trump Interview

(Vanity Fair – April 1, 2024) – Against a brightly colored “Grant Park Pride” mural in a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, Joe Biden launched Latinos Con Biden-Harris, the campaign’s Hispanic-voter outreach effort, on March 19, slamming opponent and former president Donald Trump for saying immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

But among the media at the end of the room—which included the White House press pool that travels with the president for public events—was an unexpected sight: a TelevisaUnivision network journalist who had provoked the ire of the Biden campaign and Democrats just months earlier due to a controversial “softball” Trump interview.

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Enrique Acevedo, Vanity Fair has learned, was in Phoenix to prepare for an interview this week with Biden, a major get for the Spanish-language giant as it works to reestablish its footing as a fair arbiter during the 2024 cycle. The interview, set to be pretaped on Thursday at the White House, according to two Bidenworld sources familiar with the details, will be part of a coverage package from Acevedo that will also feature an interview with campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez, as well as two questions he already asked Biden in Phoenix, where he was given a total of four minutes with the president.

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The View cohost and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, who took to Instagram in the wake of Univision’s November Trump sit-down to call the interview “embarrassing” and a “journalistic disgrace,” told Vanity Fair the Biden interview is a good decision for both the network and the president. “I expect Univision to live up to its responsibility as the largest, oldest Hispanic network, and I think Joe Biden needs to go everywhere. I hope he hits many Spanish-language outlets,” she said

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Acevedo came under fire after largely giving Trump free reign and failing to adequately push back on false claims and incendiary comments, such as one in which Trump compared migrants coming into the US to Hannibal Lecter, the fictional serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs. Some Democrats close to the campaign now say it would only be fair for Univision and Acevedo to similarly give Biden a friendly interview, but Navarro-Cárdenas said she doesn’t believe that’s necessary. “Look, Enrique Acevedo’s interview of Trump was not good,” she added. “But I don’t want or expect a softball interview with Biden. I think all interviews should be the same and people should be asked the important questions.”

One major question in light of the planned Biden interview is how Democrats went from demanding Univision make amends with them in November to being comfortable moving forward and working with the network. That smoothing-over occurred in January during a previously unreported, high-stakes meeting between White House senior adviser Anita Dunn, one of Biden’s most trusted aides, and TelevisaUnivision Mexico co-CEO Bernardo Gómez Martinez, according to the two Bidenworld sources.

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When asked about the meeting, Maria Cardona, a CNN commentator and White House ally, said Dunn—whom CNN once called Biden’s “brawler in chief”—is a savvy communicator who doesn’t do things for attention or credit.

“It was incredibly smart because she understood just how egregious what Univision had done with its Trump interview was, but at the same time, [she] understands the importance of the Univision audience for Biden,” she said. “So having her be the architect of this meeting where Univision understood they had to give Biden the same kind of opportunity—and even the same reporter understood he had to redeem himself—all underscores the influence Anita and the president see the Hispanic community has had, and will have, in this coming election.”

A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the Biden interview, but in a statement to Vanity Fair, they broadly addressed the president’s engagement with Hispanic media. 

“President Biden knows the importance of speaking directly to the Latino community and has been engaging with Hispanic media on a regular basis, including interviews on Radio La Campesina, El Bueno, La Mala, y El Feo show, and El Genio Lucas show, and just recently to commemorate Cesar Chavez Day, the president sent a message to Latino farmworker radio stations across the country.”

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Biden now has the opportunity—as he did during a southwest swing in March—to reintroduce himself to Latino voters and tout his administration’s work on everything from capped insulin costs to infrastructure law and major small business growth.

Kristian Ramos, a Democratic strategist, said research from progressive donor network Way to Win shows “Latinos have no idea what the president has done,” but also that Spanish-speaking Latinos support Biden at higher levels.

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“The opportunity here is to underline and articulate how the president has made their lives better, from job creation to lower health care costs,” he said. “What’s missing from this campaign is something aspirational and forward-looking,” he added, citing a White House fact sheet from earlier this year that showed the share of Latino households owning a business had increased by 40%. (Axios recently cited a UCLA analysis of federal labor statistics and census data that found Latinos “had staggeringly higher rates of new business ownership than any other racial or ethnic group.”)

Republicans expect any interview with Biden to get into the topic of the border. Daniel Garza, the president of the conservative Libre Initiative, said the subject isn’t a Latino issue, or a white-America issue, but a security issue for all Americans. “Any reporter worth their salt would ask Biden about the border because he really has allowed the border crisis to worsen,” Garza said. “How could you not ask him about this?”

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