Facing South Florida: Spanish Language Media In South Florida, Part 1

Jim DeFede devoted the entire half-hour to explore the rise of misinformation and disinformation in Spanish language media locally, especially when it comes to Spanish language radio.

Video Transcript

- Now, from CBS 4 News, this is Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede.

JIM DEFEDE: Good Morning and welcome to Facing South Florida. This morning we're going to do something a little different. We're going to explore the rise of misinformation and disinformation in Spanish language media here in South Florida, especially when it comes to Spanish language radio. Now if you don't speak Spanish or listen to Spanish radio, you may not think this is an issue that affects you. But trust me, you are seriously mistaken.

So just stay with me for a few minutes. This issue has taken on new life in recent weeks after the firing of Raul Martinez, a Democrat and former mayor of Hialeah, who hosted a popular afternoon radio show on the Spanish language station, Caracol. Caracol was sold on April 5, and two days later Martinez was abruptly fired. Martinez believes he was let go because he was one of the few voices on Spanish radio challenging the right wing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the insurrection on January 6th.

RAUL MARTINEZ: See what they're using is the radio and the airwaves and the TV to scare people, to tell people don't listen to anybody else, just listen to us. And they want to be like a dictatorship. They talk about freedom of the press in Cuba, they talk about freedom of the press in Venezuela, and not willing to do that here. And that's the scary part of this community that I so built. I was part of it to a certain degree, they're destroying it by dividing it.

JIM DEFEDE: The FCC still has to approve the sale of the radio station and Democratic members of Congress have written the FCC expressing concern. Last week, former Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia filed his own protest over the sale. Now most experts believe the sale will eventually go through but the issue surrounding the role of Spanish media in spreading false information remains.

This issue really started coming to light in the run up to the 2020 election. Stories would percolate in chat rooms on social media sites like Facebook and WhatsApp, which has enormous influence in the Spanish language community here in South Florida. In those chat rooms, it went beyond calling Joe Biden a socialist. Folks were being warned that if Biden were elected president, the country will be run by militant Blacks, communists, and Jews. And there were also the QAnon conspiracies about Biden being a pedophile. From those chat rooms, the stories would work their way into more traditional Spanish language media.

"El Nuevo Herald" for instance, last year was regularly publishing an insert filled with racist and anti-Semitic articles. And Spanish language radio stations either sold airtime or hired hosts who spread the same lies. One radio host claimed Black Lives Matter was really a satanic worshipping cult. Here is Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University, who has analyzed the link between social media and local radio.

EDUARDO GAMARRA: A lot of what was coming out of WhatsApp and often produced by YouTube channels in Colombia or in Venezuela, fed interestingly by a lot of the QAnon kind of conspiracies. Those kinds of things were then showing up as regular news at 5 o'clock on a local talk radio. But on the local talk radio it was essentially being discussed as news. They weren't saying this comes from this rather murky source or anything else, it was essentially treated as news or as fact.

JIM DEFEDE: According to Gamarra, radio is still the primary source for news and information for the Spanish language community in South Florida. And the recent wave of misinformation appears to have had an impact on the election. In 2008, Barack Obama won Miami-Dade County by 16 points. In 2012, he won it by 24 points. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade by 30 points. Yet in 2020, Joe Biden won the County by only seven points. Democrats also lost two congressional seats in Miami-Dade County.

Now look, there are many reasons for what happened first and foremost, Republicans were much better organized than Democrats. But support among Hispanic voters absolutely cratered for Democrats in 2020. And this type of misinformation and deliberate disinformation was part of it. I asked former state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez the role that Spanish language media plays in South Florida.

JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ: One of the things that we've been seeing is sort of a reconsolidation toward the right wing in terms of the political commentary and the way the news is delivered. In the lead up to the insurrection, if they're basically a mouthpiece for the far right, many stations were. And even after the insurrection, we're allowing just repeatedly this disinformation about the idea that it was like a false flag operation and that this was done to embarrass Trump, and that it was a leftist movement. That has a real effect and it's damaging.

JIM DEFEDE: And so that brings us back to the firing of Raul Martinez, who described for me the call he received from Caracol's station manager, Luis Gutierrez.

RAUL MARTINEZ: I'm sitting on the computer, reading for the day, getting set of the stories and getting to know the stories, verifying stories or things that I got. I got a call from Luis Gutierrez, 8:30 in the morning. Words, your show is canceled. And I said, OK, do I have the opportunity to say goodbye to the audience? No, your show is canceled.

JIM DEFEDE: Did he tell you why your show was canceled?

RAUL MARTINEZ: No, shows canceled, I'm only an employee. OK, and that was it, less than 45 seconds.

JIM DEFEDE: Now once again, the firing came just two days after Caracol was purchased by America CV, which operates the Spanish language television station America TeVe, on Channel 41. While the Caracol sale is awaiting approval by the FCC, the new owners are not supposed to make any programming changes. And Gutierrez claims no one from America TeVe was involved in the decision to get rid of Martinez.

But within hours of Martinez being fired, the president of America TeVe Carlos Vasallo, went on his own TV station bragging about what he did, saying and today we have been able to modify Caracol's programming. We have been able to change Caracol's programming starting today.

RAUL MARTINEZ: I covered the elections. I covered local politics. All this stuff that you guys work, and I'm not a journalist. I've never pretended to be a journalist. I was a publisher but I've never had the seal of being-- I'm not a journalist. I respect, even though I fought them like politicians do, I always respected the profession. So I always told the public.

But what I did is I brought issues that the regular press, Spanish press, wouldn't touch. I was able to have a view of some of the players, because I knew some of the players. So that gave me a bigger insight in Spanish, not in English, in Spanish. So things went extremely well. To make a long story short, I was on the radio three and a half years.

JIM DEFEDE: What did you like about it? What was it that kept you going in every day?

RAUL MARTINEZ: Well the fact that I was able to bring to the community what a lot of the radio stations don't do, which is basically, it's not my [? truth, ?] it is what it is. And I make comments on it, I brought in guests, I would ask the hard questions. I would bring a politician or anybody and I would ask a question. And I never badger a person that I was interviewing or a guest, but if they were lying I would stop and say, wait a minute, that's not the way it is.

JIM DEFEDE: How dangerous is it do you think that some of those issues that folks who listen to English language media might get but are not breaking through in Spanish language media, especially now that you're off the air. How dangerous is that for the community?

RAUL MARTINEZ: When we talk about the big lie and when we talk about the insurgency on January the 6th, the interpretation in most of the radio stations and some of the TV is that oh no, no it wasn't it wasn't the Oath Keepers. They didn't know who the Oath Keepers. No, no they were not the problem. No, there were not the Three Percenters, The Boogaloo Boys, no they were Black Lives Matter, the socialists. And once they start putting that into people's mind, our community is not a community that reads a lot. They're watching [? [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] ?] and they're listening at the factories or in the offices.

And what these people tell them all the time, which is a lie, they tend to believe. When these individuals are calling me a socialist because I'm for providing the unemployment checks. When I say, look $275 is not enough, 14 weeks is not enough. When I talk about housing, when I talk about the [? PBP ?] which they call it a socialist program, none of them gave the money back. I wasn't entitled to any of those benefits. I don't mind paying more Jim. Because as I say when I first came in 1960, somebody else paid for my education, somebody paid for the road, somebody paid for-- so now this is a way of giving it back by you make more you pay your share.

JIM DEFEDE: How is the word socialism now being used in the community?

RAUL MARTINEZ: OK, the word there were socialism is being abused. You know if I were to run today in Hialeah I would be labeled a socialist now because I built housing for the elderly that didn't have the money, because I was part of the organization that put together Little Havana Activity Center to feed the people and provide them something. They're using it, in my opinion, is because it was [? tested. ?]

Everyone thought that it was going to be Bernie Sanders. He was going to be the candidate. And now what is the key word? Socialism. Now Biden is the candidate. I've known Biden since 84, 85. I'm not friends with him, but I've met him through Maurice Ferre. And he's no socialist. They took that socialism and here they kept pounding on the socialist, they kept pounding on the socialism.

Now the Democrats, and I'm not an advisor to the Democratic party, made a mistake that they did not put a stop to it, that they didn't counter that immediately. Maybe because Biden didn't have the money, maybe because the Democratic party thought that was not going to stick. So you've got a whole bunch of newer members of the group that puts together all of this. They thought, well, this thing is going to go away.

No, Miami politics is different. It wasn't going to go away. They're still saying it. And so now if you don't have somebody there ready and say, let's talk about socialism. What is it? Now do you get welfare? Do you get this, do you get that, well are you a socialist? No, I'm not. Well, that's what these people are saying.

JIM DEFEDE: I'm going to interview Darren Soto later today, the Congressman from Orlando. He's talking about objecting potentially to the sale. Do you think that the sale should be blocked?

RAUL MARTINEZ: You know Jim, I'm not going to get involved in the sale. I'm not going to get involved in the FCC key issue. I'm starting my own YouTube channel. A lot of people are subscribing. It's a new world for me.

So they're not going to keep me quiet. You got to remember Jim, I came to this country in 1960. I remember the signs that said apartment for rent, no children, no dogs, no Cubans. I've seen the growth in this community and I would hate not to be part of trying to stop the destruction and the division in this community.

JIM DEFEDE: When we come back, I speak to Congressman Darren Soto. And later I talk to one of the new owners of Caracol about why Raul Martinez was fired and in his plans for the future.