UPDATE, November 3: The LA Times has issued a formal apology, after citing this story for calling attention to the issue.
LOS ANGELES — Why would the same newspaper, with a mainstream version in English and another version in Spanish covering the same geographical area and diverse communities, endorse different candidates for the same federal, state and local elections in each language?
Dianne Feinstein or Kevin de León?
The English version of the LA Times suggests you re-elect U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein because she comes from a more “civil and productive era of governance” and has accomplished a great deal like that. The editorial casts doubt on the effectiveness of her challenger, state senator Kevin de León who seems “unwilling to compromise.”
LA Times en Español, however, has a different take. According to its editorial, de León is the best choice because he seems pragmatic and effective enough and knows the immigrant community best. And, after all, “Dianne Feinstein has been in the Senate since 1992” and that’s “too long. A generational change is needed.”
Aside from the fact that the latest argument smacks of ageism, should Spanish-speaking LA elect one senator and English Speaking LA elect another? How about bilingual English-Spanish voters? What kind of conclusion can they reach after reading both endorsements?
Steve Poizner or Ricardo Lara?
LA Times in English thinks Steve Poizner is the best guy for Insurance Commissioner because he did a good job in the same position between 2007-2011 and the other candidate, Ricardo Lara, “lacks experience with insurance regulation.”
But LA Times en Español wants you to back state Senator Ricardo Lara because he has “a strong commitment in defense of the consumer and his crusade in favor of universal health care reflects a passion for the most vulnerable.”
It would be tough for the LA Times “en inglés” to sell millionaire Poizner to Latino voters who remember his campaign for governor in 2010, when he ran promising “to stop taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants” among other harsh anti-immigrant messages.
Poizner, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger did when the anti-immigrant stance served him no more, has distanced himself from his 2010 campaign of 2010, he “regrets the tone” and has dropped the R from his name, choosing to run as “no party preference.”
Even More Examples
LA Times English supports LA sheriff Jim McDonnell. LA Times en Español wants you to elect Alex Villanueva. The other endorsements are the same, except two ballot initiatives: Proposition 3, a water bond is a big NO for English speakers, but a YES for Spanish speakers. Proposition 7 about permanent Daylights Savings Time is a YES for English and a NO for Spanish (figure that one out for me, please).
Mona Field, first Vice president of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, a political scientist and former member of the Community College District Board, said she got the Los Angeles Times en Español “Guía para votar” (Voting Guide) at her home on Saturday October 20.
The same content had been published online by the LA Times en Español a couple of days before, under the byline of Alejandro Maciel, who appears as the editor of that publication as well as HOY, a thrice-a-week Spanish language publication owned by the Times.
“I saw their endorsement of de León and was very curious, given that the Times had endorsed Feinstein since the primary,” said Fields, who is fully bilingual. “I thought, Oh my God I wonder if they changed their mind about Feinstein. I also saw the different endorsements for Sheriff and thought: that’s weird.”
But the next day, when Field opened the Los Angeles Times Sunday edition, she found the summary of recommendations in the editorial page and was, in her words, “pissed off.”
“I wrote this short email to my contacts and talked to some people I know in the media”, she told Latino Rebels. “I think it’s appalling to be honest. I don’t understand it.”
What’s the Deal Here?
The LA Times has had a Spanish language publication (HOY) for several years, but in March, the company launched “LA Times en Español” as a brand that would contain translated content from the LA Times reporters and some content from the small staff existing at HOY.
According to HOY’s website and to Media Moves, a blog that covers Latinos in the Media Industry, HOY continues to exist, and it has its own editors and staff, but they overlap with Los Angeles Times en Español.
The former “Hoy Fin de semana” edition is now “LA Times en Español Fin de Semana.” HOY continues to publish a Friday and a Sports Edition, separate from the LA Times.
Confused? It’s about to get worse.
According to Hillary Manning, director of communications for the LA Times, the endorsements that appeared on the LA Times en Español website “were originally published in HOY Los Angeles and were posted on the LA Times en Español in error.”
“The Hoy LA endorsements are separate from those of the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Our editors are updating that post, and will direct readers to the endorsements from Hoy LA and the LA Times,” she added.
On Tuesday night, Manning responded to Latino Rebels again after our original deadline when we told her we had seen the print copy of the endorsements sent to homes. She added that they also had made an error in sending the different endorsements as a print supplement to thousands of homes and announced that they would send a new edition with the original Times endorsements with an explanation by the editor.
“Yes, the HOY endorsements were also picked up in the weekly Los Angeles Times en Español print edition by mistake. I can understand why a reader would be confused and angry,” she wrote in a Tuesday email.
But if it was an error to use the HOY endorsements with the banner of LA Times en Español, then the “error” was also sent to thousands of homes in a print supplement.
The October 20 LA Times en Español voting guide did not display the HOY brand anywhere in that tabloid-size supplement.
I wasn’t able to get any further explanation from the LA Times regarding these different sets of endorsements for the same city of Los Angeles. I also reached out to Maciel, the editor of HOY-LATimes en Español, and was told by Manning that “he was on vacation.”
But the truth remains that If I had to rely on the LA Times for advice on how to vote as a Latina in Los Angeles, I would be really bewildered at this point.
CAL State Northridge journalism professor Jose Luis Benavides points out that there’s nothing new to the idea that news is covered differently by Spanish language and English language outlets.
It was also normal pre-internet to have politicians issue a message in English and another in Spanish. But this is the same newspaper issuing political recommendations to their readers according to their primary language. Bilingual readers must figure it out on their own.
“I think this could create a confusion for readers,” Benavides told Latino Rebels. “It’s not clear who the LA Times thinks are the best candidates. For the Latino public of Los Angeles, this type of double message confirms that the English publication doesn’t really have the best interest of the Latino community in mind.”
For Jesus Hernández Cuellar, publisher of bilingual Contacto Magazine and former Metro Editor of La Opinión (LA’s other Spanish-language newspaper), it’s clearly a marketing scheme, but a very “infantile” one.
“They are trying to look good in front of the two audiences, but if they’re going to recommend a candidate, it should be the best one, regardless of anything else,” Hernández said.