Allegations of Rubio blackmail leads to Univision debate boycott


Five presidential candidates—Perry, Romney, Bachmann, Huntsman and Cain—say they’ll boycott a scheduled Univision-hosted debate in January over what they say amounts to the network blackmailing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a vice-presidential shortlister and favorite of the Tea Party Movement.

According to a story that broke in the Miami Herald, Univision tried to strongarm Rubio (pictured) with an embarrassing story about the senator’s brother-in-law because he wouldn’t do an interview on the show Al Punto, which has embraced a liberal line on the hot topic of immigration.

Univision has called the allegations “absurd,” and said that the July story of the 24-year-old drug bust was reported fairly and accurately.

But the five candidates believed the reports from Rubio’s office and the Univision insiders, which were first reported in a story in Herald and its El Nuevo Spanish language version.

So, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann issued statements 10/4 saying Univision needs to make amends before they would appear at the debate, tentatively scheduled two days before Florida’s 1/31 primary.

From Perry’s office: “Governor Perry will not consider participating in the January 29, 2012, Univision debate until your network addresses this ethical breach and takes action to correct it. With NBC and Telemundo also hosting a debate the same weekend in January 2012, we will have ample opportunity to engage with Spanish-speaking Americans.”

Romney’s camp issued a statement: “We have not received any invitation from Univision for a debate, but we are troubled by these allegations and would not participate in any such debate unless and until Univision satisfactorily addresses this situation.”

The fact that the five candidates are standing by Rubio underscored they’d like to have the 40-year-old child of Cuban immigrants as a running mate.

In the Herald story, Rubio’s staff and Univision insiders say Univision president of news Isaac Lee offered Rubio a deal: Appear on Al Punto and the station would soften the story. Rubio declined. The story ran on 7/11. It heavily promoted its story on the late 1980s conviction of Orlando Cicilia, the husband of Rubio’s sister, during the federal-led “Operation Cobra.” Rubio was 16 at the time and had nothing to do with the case. Cicilia was given early release in 2000.

Univision said in a statement that several participants were on a call with Rubio’s office for an “off-the-record discussion” about the cocaine story, including two of its top lawyers.

“Univision News is the leading source of news and information for the U.S. Hispanic community and this is a responsibility that we take very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “With respect to Senator Rubio, Univision covered the (cocaine) story in the same objective, fair manner we cover every significant story. Univision did not offer to soften or spike a story about a major drug bust involving Senator Rubio’s relatives. We would not make such an offer to any other subject of a news story and did not offer it in this case.”

Three of Rubio’s friends and political allies — U.S. Rep. David Rivera, state House leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Miami-Dade Republican Chairman Erik Fresen — called for the debate Univision boycott in a letter Monday to the Republican National Committee and the campaigns.

“This attempt at extorting a respected Republican elected official like Senator Rubio, who is also a proud American of Hispanic descent, is offensive and unacceptable,” they wrote. They called on Univision to apologize and to fire Lee.

“We respectfully decline your request to issue a public apology or to request the resignation of our President of News, Mr. Isaac Lee. Lost in the inflammatory language being used by you is that our story was truthfully and accurately reported,” Univision responded in a statement. “More importantly, Univision takes exception to the false assertion that it attempted to ‘extort’ Senator Rubio in any way, shape or form. At no point in time did anyone from Univision offer to kill or soften the story regarding Senator Rubio’s brother-in-law in exchange for appearing on any Univision news program.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Well, it looks like Univision has to stick to its guns here, because—guilty or not–apologizing would imply it was premeditated and open a whole new can of worms. And there will likely be no debate at all, with five candidates dropping out. Like Newt Gingrich preached during the September MSNBC debate that included Politico hosts: they (the media) would not be successful in trying to get the candidates to bicker amongst themselves. These candidates are obviously sticking together for their cause of a Republican presidency in 2012 and that includes standing up to the media.

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