A top assistant to an Univision news boss trashed Sen. Marco Rubio on the Facebook page of the Republican's aide, raising new questions about possible pro-Democratic, anti-Rubio bias inside the powerful Spanish-language network's Doral headquarters.
The latest incident began Wednesday night after Rubio's spokesman, Alex Burgos, announced the high-profile Florida senator would give the GOP's first-ever bilingual rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union speech.
That led Univision employee Angelica Artiles to let loose a string of partisan criticisms.
"Oh. wow, the loser is going to speak after our President," Artiles wrote on spokesman Alex Burgos' Facebook page at 9:33 p.m. Wednesday. "Anything to get publicity. Ask him to do us a favor and stay home that night."
Sentiments like that reflect the prevailing political feeling among Univision's higher ups at its Doral headquarters, Univision insiders have told The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald for more than a year. Artiles is executive assistant to Daniel Coronell, Univision's vice president of news.
The network is owned by a major Democratic donor who has accused Rubio and other Republicans of having an "anti-Hispanic" stand on immigration that's "despicable."
In August, someone used Univision's official Facebook account to attack Rubio during the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
When first alerted by the website BuzzFeed, Univision announced it struck the statement and replaced it with a statement in Spanish that translates, "An unpleasant comment not authorized by Univision News was posted on this page. That comment does not represent the views of Univision News and we have taken steps to ensure that this situation does not happen again."
And a year before that Facebook incident, Rubio clashed with Univision's news chief, Isaac Lee, when his news team decided to run a story about a quarter-century-old drug bust involving the senator's brother in law.
Univision began reporting the drug-bust story after Rubio rebuffed repeated interview requests with the network, which had been critical of Rubio's opposition to liberal immigration policies that Univision personalities have promoted.Univision insiders and Rubio staffers told The Herald that Lee offered to soften or kill a story about about the drug bust if the Senator cooperated with the network by sitting down for an interview. Rubio refused. The story about the drug bust ran.
Lee denied offering a quid pro quo. He wouldn't speak with The Herald for its original piece, and instead issued a written statement. But after the report, Lee sat down with the New Yorker and admitted he did offer "options" to Rubio's staff, including Burgos, concerning his cooperation.
For this latest tussle, Burgos refused to comment.
Artiles didn't return an email, calls or a text message. Her Facebook account appeared inactive and she deleted her comments on Burgos' Facebook page, but not before others copied them and sent them to The Herald.
Univision had no comment.
Both Artiles and Burgos were far more talkative on Wednesday. After Artiles called Rubio a "loser," Burgos responded with an attack on Obama.
"While you may be content with mediocrity under this President, I am not," Burgos wrote. "And fortunately neither are patriots like Marco Rubio who have opportunities like next Tuesday night to offer an alternative way forward. I am proud to work for him and actually feel sorry for you for writing this."
Artiles shot back: "Patriot? LOL Alex Burgos."
She then used a diminutive term for Rubio's first name, "Marquito," and proceeded to compare him to a Disney dwarf, a "slave boy" and a "fool" who was passed over by Republican Mitt Romney on his presidential ticket last November.
Burgos stopped responding, but others took up Rubio's cause and attacked Artiles for being a "troll," internet slang for someone who posts inflammatory statements to gin up responses. The conversation went back and forth in English and Spanish.
"I see that all the mojoncitos ['little turds'] have come out to defend the principal turd, Marquito," she wrote in Spanish. "I am laughing all the way to the White House :)."
Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade Republican School Board member, joined the fray. Curbelo said he didn't realize Angelica worked for Univision until the day after the fact, when he confirmed her employment.
"Qué chusmería," Curbelo wrote Wednesday night, which roughly translates to something like "what riffraff."
Artiles: "Curbelo, the riffraff might be you. I haven't said anything 'riffraffy.' Wake up and join the Democratic Party unless you want to remain losers all your lives."
Curbelo: "I think it's riffraff to call 'losers' people who disagree with you on political matters. Your tone is deplorable and it's that same tone that keeps our elected officials from agreeing to take on great challenges that threaten the viability of our country. Lastly, even more riffraff is the use of the word 'little turds' to refer to professionals and parents who are expressing their opinions."
Artiles: "Curbelo, losers are the ones who lost the elections, this is what is called freedom of expression. We are all professionals and being parents is nothing out of this world, nor because of that does one stop being a little turd. And Marquito only wants to talk about immigration NOW because he lost. I know well all his lies and his vanity."
The exchange underscores the passion that Rubio and the issue of immigration provoke both outside Univision and inside its newsroom.
It also heightens conservative concerns that the network, the most-watched by Spanish-language viewers in North America, tilts its coverage in favor of Democratic-leaning immigration policy.
Some Republicans have complained that Univision's recent treatment of Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez -- a liberal immigration reform leader under FBI investigation -- has been far kinder than the network's interview of the Republican Rubio last year. Rubio and Menendez have joined forces to fashion a bipartisan immigration-reform plan.
After tussling with Univision in 2011, Rubio finally granted with Univision's Jorge Ramos, who has crusaded for the pro-immigrant DREAM Act that Rubio opposes.
Rubio had rebuffed Ramos numerous times before that, only to face the story about his brother-in-law's drug bust and the clash with Lee, the Univision news chief.
After The Herald reported about the conflict with Univision, Lee went on a public-relations offensive in which the New Yorker and Columbia Journalism Review. CJR failed to disclose it has a relationship with Univision and Lee, who was recently featured at a Miami event promoted by the journalism school and the network.
In the New Yorker piece, Lee didn't just admit that he offered Rubio's staff a deal. He also acknowledged it covers immigration with a bias.
'According to Univision’s news president, Isaac Lee, the network
is openly committed to 'pro-Hispanic' immigration reform," the New Yorker wrote.
The owner of Univision, major Democratic donor Haim Saban, was more partisan than Lee and fumed in an email to the New Yorker over the way that the GOP presidential candidates boycotted a proposed Florida debate in January over the way the network reported on Rubio.
Said Saban: "The fact that Rubio and some Republican Presidential candidates have an anti-Hispanic stand that they don’t want to share with our community is understandable but despicable."
For Republicans like Curbelo, those comments are part of the atmosphere of Univision that undercuts the work of many good reporters.
"I was shocked to learn this was a Univision Network employee," Curbelo told The Herald. "This again points to an unfortunate anti-Rubio, anti-Republican culture at Univision which threatens the network's credibility and raises serious doubts about its political impartiality."
--- with Patricia Mazzei