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Politics

GOP Presidential Contenders Back Call for Univision Debate Boycott

October 3, 2011 - 6:00pm

Three Hispanic lawmakers from Miami are calling for a boycott of a proposed GOP debate as they wait for an apology from Univision, contending the Spanish-language network tried to extort an interview from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

With little response from Univision to the growing controversy, Republican presidential contenders Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney quickly gave their support to the South Florida lawmakers.

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said he expects others will follow.

I think these issues need to be challenged and brought to light, Lopez-Cantera said. I could never imagine anybody putting me in that position, let alone a U.S. senator from our state.

U.S. Rep. David Rivera, Lopez-Cantera and state Rep. Erik Fresen, all Republicans, say that if the network doesnt apologize for allegedly trying to use a story on the 1987 arrest of Rubios brother-in-law to secure an interview, they will ask the national Republican Party to boycott a Jan. 29 debate the network is trying to set up with GOP candidates.

I think that now that presidential candidates are agreeing with our letter and taking Senator Rubios side, its now more of a story, said Florida House Majority Leader Lopez-Cantera on Tuesday.

In a letter they sent to the Republican National Committee on Monday, the lawmakers also demanded the network fire its president, Isaac Lee.

I think (it's) a step in the right direction, it wouldnt be everything for me, for him to acknowledge it, said Lopez-Cantera.

The Miami Herald on Sunday reported that network employees and staff members from Rubios office claimed Lee offered to soften or kill the story if the senator gave the network an interview.

Univision spokeswoman Monica Talan was not immediately available to comment Tuesday.

According to the Herald, Univisions assistant general counsel called the reported deal absurd and stated that Lee would not step down.

In their letter, the three lawmakers state: This attempt at extorting a respected Republican elected official like Senator Rubio, who is also a proud American of Hispanic descent, is offensive and unacceptable. The lack of journalistic integrity demonstrated by Univision Television Network must be met with consequences from our party and our Republican leaders.

Perry communications director Ray Sullivan informed Univision of his decision not to attend the debate until the network addresses the reported ethical breach.

Governor Rick Perry and our team just learned of Univisions attempt to unethically pressure a prominent Republican elected official to provide access to the station in return for Univision spiking or softening a story about a relative, Sullivan stated. Even in this time of ever-changing media techniques, Univisions unethical tactics stand out. Univisions heavy-handed behavior has no place in the political or public policy area.

Huntsmans campaign manager Matt David also wrote Univision that the matter needs to be resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner.

Univision Network plays an important role in the Hispanic community, so we hope you seek such resolution, David continued. We ask the other Republican candidates to join us in this decision and will work with them to identify another forum to debate issues that are important to Americans of Hispanic descent in Florida and across our nation.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams released a statement noting that while there hasnt been any official debate invitation, they are troubled by the allegations.

We have not received any invitation from Univision for a debate, but we are troubled by these allegations and would not participate in any such debate unless and until Univision satisfactorily addresses this situation, Williams' statement said.

Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart expressed a desire for the matter to be resolved.

This issue was brought to Micheles attention and she has a great deal of respect for Senator Rubio, Stewart stated in a release. We reserve our right to participate in the Univision debate pending a positive resolution of this matter by Univision.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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