Univision used poor judgment in Rubio story

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and his past have been placed under a microscope since his election in 2010. The Spanish-language media broadcasting company Univision, in particular, has had an extensive history with the senator.

According to the Miami Herald, Rubio announced his candidacy for the Senate on Univision’s Miami affiliate and had worked for Univision as a paid commentator prior to his campaign. Rubio has since rescinded all friendliness with the company after claims that staff had allegedly tried to blackmail him for an appearance on the program “Al Punto.” If the allegations are true, Univision showed poor judgment in its recent dealings with the senator and should reread its ethics policies.

On July 11, Univision published a story regarding Rubio’s brother- in-law, Orlando Cicilia, and his 1987 arrest in a drug bust, according to the Herald. Dredging up a story from more than 20 years ago when Rubio was a 16-year-old minor with no evidence of involvement, while not adding any update of substance, suggests the story was dug up solely to smear the senator.

Prior to the story’s release, Rubio’s political adviser Todd Harris and communication director Alex Burgos spoke with Univision’s editorial staff heads, including Isaac Lee. Lee was named president of Univision in 2010, and is also a veteran journalist and the editor-in-chief of news magazine PODER, according to Fox News Latino.

According to the Herald, Lee suggested the drug-bust story might change or not be run if the senator appeared on “Al Punto.”

“You’re saying that if Marco does an interview with (Jorge) Ramos, that you will drop this investigation into his family and the story will never air?” Harris said according to the Herald. Harris and Burgos say Lee told them: “While there are no guarantees, your understanding of the proposal is fair.”

Lee has denied this, saying “Univision did not offer to soften or spike a story” and would never “make such an offer.” In an email to the Herald, Lee wrote that any insinuation that he tried to make a deal with Rubio’s representatives is “incorrect” and “defamatory.” This contradicts the correspondence between Rubio’s office and Univision obtained by the Herald. One of the follow-up letters from Lee mentions “Al Punto” again.

If Univision had simply published the story, they may have been within the lines of ethical journalism – though the story’s relevance could certainly be debated. If Univision’s president and staff used the story as a bargaining chip, however, they stepped over that line.

Who is lying cannot be surely determined at this preliminary stage, but so far, only Rubio’s office has brought forth evidence to support their version of the story. If they hope to clear their name, Univision’s staff should do the same.