Can a New Spanish-Language Media Group Help Donald Trump?

For more than five decades, the Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana has been a place to be seen for Cuban Americans—and for politicians vying for their attention. It was there that, prior to the 1978 gubernatorial election, the Democratic candidate Bob Graham bused tables, delivering on a promise to spend a hundred days working

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For more than five decades, the Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana has been a place to be seen for Cuban Americans—and for politicians vying for their attention. It was there that, prior to the 1978 gubernatorial election, the Democratic candidate Bob Graham bused tables, delivering on a promise to spend a hundred days working the jobs of ordinary Floridians. In 1992, after Bill Clinton won the Presidency, he hosted a buffet at Versailles to thank Cuban Americans for securing his win in the state. Years later, his successor, George W. Bush, spoke with local entrepreneurs there over café con leche and pastelitos. So it was hardly a coincidence that Donald Trump walked through its doors last month, after leaving the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Courthouse, in downtown Miami.

Curious onlookers stood at the restaurant’s windows. Inside, a select crowd of people, many of them members of the Cuban evangelical community, warmly welcomed the former President. Handshakes abounded, and smiles were generously bestowed, but Trump kept his remarks brief. “We have a country that’s got nothing but problems. We’re a nation in decline,” he told the press-pool cameras. “And then they do this stuff.” The “stuff” he was referring to was his arraignment earlier that day at the courthouse, where he had surrendered to federal authorities. His visit to Versailles was meant to mask the fact that he had become the first American President to be charged with federal crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty.

But, as he made his way through the crowd, Sophie Alexander, a producer from the British outlet Sky News, called out, “President Trump, are you ready to go to jail?” Her question drew reproving looks and boos from the crowd. But one man, dressed in a trim suit, with a red tie and a pocket square, stood out among the rest, as he thrust Alexander toward the exit and shouted, “Get out, you stupid bitch!” To the surprise of many, that man turned out to be Michael Caputo, an adviser to Trump’s 2src16 campaign, who later served in the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2src2src, Caputo took a leave of absence from his government tenure, after he accused government scientists of “sedition.” He has since turned his focus to a new venture: handling communications for Americano Media, a conservative news outlet founded last year, which aims to become “Fox News in Spanish,” predicated on Ronald Reagan’s idea that “Latinos are Republican. They just don’t know it yet.”

While Caputo was ushering Alexander out, one of Americano Media’s top hosts, Carinés Moncada, stood at Trump’s side. Wearing a red sheath dress and high heels, she introduced Trump to notable attendees, posed for photos, and wrapped her arm around him when a pastor offered a prayer. “Father, we thank you that you’ve given us President Trump to stand against the weight that’s coming against our nation,” he said, laying his palm on Trump’s chest. He added, “As Cuban Americans, we declare communism will not come to our shores”—a baseless, yet still prevalent, narrative in Florida’s conservative circles.

Trump’s stop at Versailles lasted just ten minutes, and didn’t make too many headlines. Some reports highlighted that, after ordering “food for everyone,” the former President left without picking up a single bill—a gesture that invited comparisons with his visit to Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where he tossed paper towels to a crowd at a relief center. CNN chose not to air the full event, arguing that it was merely a campaign prop. But the scene offered insights not just into how the current Republican Presidential front-runner might engage with Latino voters but also into how outlets like Americano Media might serve his political goals.

Since Americano Media first emerged, a year ago, it has adapted to a crowded news market. Univision and Telemundo dominate the country’s news programming in Spanish, jointly encompassing more than seventy television channels. Univision also owns thirty-nine radio stations. The bulk of conservative news coverage is led by radio hosts at the local level; past attempts to build a Spanish-language conservative network with national reach have been short-lived. Americano Media currently has a relatively small presence, on radio, online, and on streaming services, but reaching a national audience is the goal of its founder, Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo, a Republican strategist who has campaigned for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Trump. Since the 2src2src election, when Democrats saw an eight-point shift among Latinos to the G.O.P., Republicans have sought to increase those gains.

Garcia-Hidalgo initially raised just over a million dollars to counter what he saw as a “free-speech imbalance.” He told me, “I always went into the lion’s den,” referring to his appearances on news programs. “The table was always stacked against me.” His vision for Americano Media was to create a space where conservative voices could express themselves freely, while also welcoming liberal viewpoints, to appeal to a center-right audience. “Everybody’s too busy hating on each other, yelling at each other,” he said. “We might not agree on all the issues, but at least we can agree to be civil”—Caputo’s behavior at Versailles apparently notwithstanding.

Last spring, Americano Media launched on SiriusXM satellite radio, where it drew a modest audience, but managed to slowly attract more capital. According to Caputo, with the support of three conservative donors—among them Thomas Woolston, a patent attorney who once worked for the C.I.A.—who gave almost twenty million dollars, Americano shifted to local radio broadcasting. It struck a partnership with the Audacy radio conglomerate and began airing its programs on 79src AM, renamed Radio Libre, in Miami. Alfonso Aguilar, Americano Media’s political director, said, “The way you create a permanent presence in the community is through radio.”

South Florida was a natural choice. Republicans have made sizable inroads with Latinos in the state in recent elections, and support for the Party is deepening there. Americano Media built its first TV studio in Miami last spring and began attracting staff from a variety of outlets, ranging from CNN en Español to local right-wing radio stations; it now has about a hundred and forty employees. Its initial investment in Florida required Americano Media to cater to a unique audience of Latin American exiles: not only Cubans, who make up almost a third of Latino voters in Florida, but also a growing number of Colombians, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans who live in the state. Many of them, Alejandro Alvarado Bremer, the director of the Spanish-language journalism master’s program at Florida International University, said, are prone to embrace Manichaean narratives. “You cannot have a moderate, balanced opinion of international matters in South Florida,” he told me. “In order to have traction, you have to be radical.”

In the lead-up to last year’s midterm elections, Alvarado Bremer joined a group of researchers at F.I.U. who partnered with the Miami Herald to conduct a report on misinformation and disinformation in Miami-Dade County’s news sources. They analyzed more than a hundred hours of programming on Spanish-language radio and YouTube, including Americano Media. Their report found that anchors allowed “callers and guests to freely repeat falsehoods or vituperation without challenge.” Garcia-Hidalgo is quick to dismiss these reports: “Americano Media is not a source of mis- or disinformation,” he told me. From the outset, he said, the company warned employees of its zero-tolerance policy for disinformation, and it recently set up an ethics panel, which comprised just one person, to address any claims of misinformation. He did not offer any details about the extent of the review process. But listeners have been led to believe that Trump was the actual “winner” of the 2src2src election and that Democrats have embraced a “culture of electoral fraud;” that there is a “massive invasion” at the southern border, designed to “double” the number of Democratic voters; and that abortion is tantamount to “genocide.”

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