Univision Radio is going to have to eat some cuervo on Election Day. And front-running candidate Carlos Gimenez couldn't buy better advertising.
After being accused of having a slant for Julio Robaina, the station will have to admit that two of it's veteran talkers, Oscar Haza and Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera, basically lied live on their programs on Monday -- the day before this important mayoral race -- when they aired their needless disgust for the other candidate over a commercial that questioned the integrity of some reporters, an ad that never existed. (Note to teachers: Excellent example of irony).
Admittedly feeling a little vindicated after her own run-in with one of these radio personalities, Ladra can't wait to hear the retractions that will reportedly be aired tomorrow during both the Haza show in the morning (starts at 8 a.m.) and the Rodriguez-Tejera show in the afternoon (4 to 6 p.m.). But, while it's at least an admission from the station -- widely regarded as Robainaland -- that the men lied or misspoke or whatever spin they may put on it, a taped retraction in some woman's apologetic corporate voice as the extent of any apology for having slandered Gimenez -- deliberately or unintentionally misleading voters -- is not enough. Especially after the Robaina campaign has already used the non existing radio spot in his own ad heard on Radio Mambi Monday night (and when was that commercial produced? Could Robaina have been flagged to it before the talent spoke of it on the air?).
These two men used their own voice and their own airtime and whatever credibility they have with the important viejito voting block to slander a career public servant who is so painfully squeaky clean that the other campaign continuously makes up faux dirt that fails to stick. No, it is only fitting that these two self-descried "journalists" devote some of their own airtime to either admit they are or tell us why they are not, at the very least, predisposed against Gimenez. Haza, in particular, should spend 13 minutes on the subject. That is about how long he dramatically went on and on and on Monday about how offended he was by this commercial that questioned the integrity of some Cuban AM radio talk jockeys who call themselves journalists and have been unquestionably biased in this and other campaigns (not open minded, equal opportunity political harassers like, ahem, well). Haza went so far as to ask Gimenez publicly to retire it from the air. Problem is, it was never on the air. It was not produced by the campaign, approved by the campaign, paid for by the campaign, placed on paid airtime by the campaign. That commercial was produced by one of multiple part time consultants or a volunteer (depending on whose talking to Ladra) on the campaign (someone who is likely fired by now), without the prior knowledge or approval of the candidate or the campaign manager (Are you crazy? Because they are not). In fact, the first time they heard about the ad was after Haza -- who also had a debate on his TV show last week and said Gimenez bailed when he knew the former commissioner was not doing debates and had declined -- talked about it in his morning show. "We didn't know anything about it until today, until it was on the radio," said campaign manager JC Flores, adding that a "statement" by Univision Radio would make it clear that the ad was never paid for or, as the disclaimer says, "approved" by the Carlos Gimenez campaign. People close to the campaign and inside the station on Southwest 8th Street told Ladra similar stories. Basically, someone -- either an unappreciated member of the multi-consultant team or an overzealous volunteer -- produced the piece on their own to impress the future mayor and his kingmakers. But the promo got pinched before the protege could pitch it. Somehow, the piece got turned over to "talent" (Univision Radio's word, note they don't use "journalists") to make into a campaign issue on the eve of the election. Rodriguez-Tejera reportedly said on his show that he "heard" (this is how they do it, folks) Gimenez was in the studio Friday recording the piece. I didn't hear that first hand but I understand that is why the retraction will be aired on his show as well. But it was not true. Gimenez was not there on Friday.
I did hear Haza's dramatic speech, though. Because I was flagged to it on the internet by Chuny Montaner, the web content producer for Univision Radio, who did not return a call (no message because her voice mail was full, la pobre) or a text message. She apparently sent a mass email with a link to a clip from Haza's show on their website, but it's gone now. (And she should now send another mass email explaining it was a mistake, not just an email to "recall the email," which is also not enough.) On the website, before they took it off, it was titled "Haza asks Gimenez to retire promo" -- a promo that never saw a working day in its life? It never aired or was even known to the campaign to exist. And Haza's piece sounded like a Robaina endorsement. I called Haza, then texted him before I called him again. I think he may have thought it was someone else before I introduced myself. He said he remembered me (I've been on his show a few times for some U.S.-Cuba policy issue or another) and then I asked him when was it that he had heard this commercial that he was so outraged about on the air.
"Hello? Hello?" The call seems to have been disconnected. Maybe his battery died. All I know is I called back and left a message for him to call me back at any time. Maybe he will in the morning. Or he can just explain on the air how he had come to the conclusion that the commercial aired, who had given it to him, if he indeed heard it, and with what motivation, and how he might avoid doing that again.
But the conversation shouldn't end there. As a community, we need to have more dialogue with the owners, producers and "talent" at Univision Radio, the supernova of Cuban AM talk radio, about what seems like a longtime image -- real or perceived -- of their stations as slanted sanctuaries of slander-for-sale. Yeah, that's right: I went there. Again. This is not new territory, people. Please don't anybody feign surprise or offense at this suggestion. This perception is out there and has been for decades. I'm just talking about it openly. It doesn't help that Rodriguez-Tejera devotes six shows to attacking Gimenez on a robocall that only 1 percent of the population heard and hasn't spent one minute on the attack ads against Gimenez paid for by a PBA-funded PAC. It doesn't help when someone who sounds like a veteran radio personality does robocalls for Robaina and uses the easily-identifyable signature theme music in the soundtrack. Campaign finance reports show tens of thousands of dollars paid to political consultants (in addition to line items for production and airtime on TV and radio) for what many political insiders admit are payoffs to on-air personalities and their handlers at the stations. In fact, there is one veteran program host whose nickname on Political Street is "Tres Lucas" because his going rate is $3,000 a show (and Luca is Cuban slang for $1,000).
There are people reading this blog who know exactly what and who I am talking about. And there are people at Univision Radio who know that this perception exists. If they do nothing to address it, they basically allow it to grow and give their talent license to make it a reality.
If none of this is true, the perception still needs to be discussed in the open so that the rampant rumors are put to rest and the community assured. If the perception is even the tiniest bit real, then it's time for a frank discussion about saving Cuban radio from itself.
Regardless, this is a topic -- the influence of Cuban radio on elections and public opinion and the extent of any bias, real or perceived, within -- that needs further discussion. And I invite -- no, dare is a better word -- the powers that be at Univision to dedicate a post-election show on the matter.