English Only at Spanish Debate

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jun 15 17:59:23 UTC 2007

June 14, 2007,  7:46 pm English Only at Spanish

By Sarah Wheaton <http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/author/swheaton/>

Univision, the Spanish-language television network, just clarified how its
Sept. 9 Spanish-language presidential debate will go down, and the campaigns
of the two Spanish-speaking candidates are not pleased — and now one is
threatening not to attend. "It has come to our attention that there has been
some confusion over whether our debate will be conducted in Spanish or
English," wrote Sylvia Rosabal, vice president of Univision's news division,
in a letter sent to the campaigns today. Citing a desire to "provide a level
playing field for all candidates," Ms. Rosabal said that all candidates
would be expected to respond to questions in English, "regardless of their
proficiency in the Spanish-language." Candidates will hear the questions
translated into English as they are read to the audience in Spanish, and
their responses will be simultaneously translated into Spanish.

The announcement prompted frustration from the campaigns of Senator
Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico,
both Democrats who are fluent Spanish speakers. "Surely all candidates would
agree that it can only benefit this important, fast-growing community to
have presidential contenders be able to speak directly to them in English or
Spanish," said Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman for the Dodd campaign.

Well, Mr. Richardson, for one, agrees, and took it one step further. From
his spokesman, Pahl Shipley:

This is a disservice to Univision's viewers. It is a Spanish-language
network and candidates who speak Spanish should not be penalized because
other candidates do not. The governor would like to directly address
Spanish-speaking Americans in their language as he often does. This new
wrinkle detracts from the original intent of this important debate. The
governor is deeply disappointed and may not attend.

Mr. Shipley did not offer a time frame for making a final decision. In
response to Mr. Richardson's threat, a spokeswoman for Univision reiterated
that it stands by the format and that it was a fair way to conduct the
debate.  Mr. Dodd learned Spanish while in the Dominican Republic with the
Peace Corps, and Mr. Richardson grew up in Mexico City. Brooke Morganstein,
a spokeswoman for Univision, said this is "not a change in the original
format." She continued, "This is just something that we felt needed to be
clarified." The original invitation, dated June 2, states, "Questions will
be asked in Spanish and simultaneously translated into English for all
candidates. Responses to questions will be simultaneously translated into
Spanish for Univision's viewers and listeners." It did not specifically
address whether candidates could choose to answer in Spanish.

Representative Dennis J. Kucinich and Mike Gravel have also said they plan
to attend. Other campaigns have said they are still considering the
invitation, though some Democrats would have to make an exception to their
pledges to only participate in debates sanctioned by the Democratic National
Committee. Maria Elena Salinas, who will moderate the debate with her
co-anchor at Noticiero Univision Jorge Ramos, rejected the idea that the
viewers would be better served by hearing Spanish-speaking candidates
directly. "I think the important thing is that our viewers are going to be
listening, whether it's through us or through the translators," and she
added that candidates' points of view would be "very clear."

To win over Hispanics, she said, candidates should "speak their language,"
not in the literal sense, but rather by demonstrating that they understand
what Hispanics care about and how those issues affect that community
specifically. "Hispanics are interested in and care about a lot of the same
topics that mainstream America cares about,"—not just immigration, said Ms.
Salinas. Education, Iraq, jobs, health care and crime are big issues among
Hispanics, as is American foreign policy with regard to Latin American
countries. She added that terrorism is a particularly important issue for
some Hispanics because many came to America not just for economic reasons,
but also "for political reasons, running away from political turmoil in
their country."

Historically, the Hispanic vote has been more Democratic," Ms. Salinas
noted. But given President Bush's popularity with Hispanics, their vote "was
up for grabs in 2004 and it's going to be up for grabs in 2008." With that
competition in mind, The Times's Michael Falcone's dispatch is especially

The major Democratic presidential candidates have agreed to participate in a
forum on June 30 sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and
Appointed Officials. All of the Republican candidates who were invited to
attend declined.

Marcelo Gaete, N.A.L.E.O.'s director of programs, said he was "baffled" that
the Republicans turned down an opportunity to interact with prominent
Hispanic elected officials. Mr. Gaete also noted that the event is being
held in Florida, a state that recently moved up its primary by several
weeks, making it one of the earliest in the country.

Spokespeople for several of the Republican candidates said that busy
campaign schedules would not permit them to attend.


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