Florida Conservatives Raise Alarm Over Sale of Radio Stations to Democratic Activists

Miami’s Radio Mambí, a mainstay of the right-wing Cuban community in Florida, is among 18 stations being sold to a group funded by George Soros.

AP/Lynne Sladky
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former Democratic congresswoman of Florida, December 13, 2021. AP/Lynne Sladky

Florida conservatives are in an uproar about a proposed media deal that would result in one of the state’s most rabidly conservative talk radio stations being sold to a group headed by prominent Democratic activists and partially funded by businessman George Soros, seen by some as a progressive bogeyman.

Under the proposed $60 million deal, the new Latino Media Network would take control of 18 radio stations in 10 of the cities with highest concentration of Spanish-speaking voters, among them New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston. If the acquisition is approved by federal regulators, Latino Media Network’s AM and FM stations would reach 33 percent of Latinos in the United States, or about 20 million people.

Miami’s Radio Mambí, a mainstay of the right-wing Cuban community in Florida and a frequent target of Democratic attacks, is among the stations being sold.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, South Florida’s Republican congressional delegation — Representatives Mario Diaz Balart, Maria Salazar, and Carlos Gimenez — said the planned sale of Radio Mambí is part of a long-term effort to silence conservative voices in the critical battleground state.

“We are concerned that this purchase of Radio Mambí is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle voices inconvenient to progressive liberals,” the members of Congress said. “If true, it will be yet another attempt by the left to erode First Amendment rights and a free marketplace of ideas.”

The Latino Media Network is led by a Latino community outreach director for President Obama, Stephanie Valencia, and an alumnus of the Hillary Clinton campaign, activist Jessica Morales Rocketto.

According to the group, Latino Media Network received financial support from leading Latino investors, including actress Eva Longoria, and Lakestar Finance, an investment group affiliated  with Soros Fund Management, a private equity firm founded by George Soros in 1970.

Democrats and Republicans in Florida have been sparring over the role of Spanish-language media since the 2020 election, when President Trump carried the state largely on the back of Latino voters. Among those complaining the loudest has been Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democratic congresswoman who that year lost her seat in Florida’s 26th district to Mr. Gimenez. 

The Democrats blamed the loss partly on what they have called a campaign of disinformation emanating from Spanish-language radio stations in the region — especially Radio Mambí, which has been an institution for Miami’s Cuban exile community since the 1980s. Its caustic mix of news and conservative talk is frequently critical of Democratic candidates both nationally and in the region.

After the 2020 election, Democratic lawmakers and activists convened congressional hearings and commissioned case studies in an effort to portray Radio Mambí and its cohorts as hotbeds of disinformation about everything from the January 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill to Black Lives Matter protests to the left-leaning politics of the Democratic Party. 

One case study claimed that the structure of Spanish-language radio in Miami gives space for an unclear distinction between traditional journalism and opinion.

“The radio shows and hosts played a significant role in the spread of disinformation about election fraud and frequently questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory,” the study concluded. “As news of the attack on the Capitol broke and the coverage evolved in the following days, the hosts shifted to say that all they wanted was an investigation, but the claims of electoral fraud never ceased during the period analyzed.” 

Conservatives have challenged the conclusions of such studies, and said the Democrats’ losses in 2020 are more about politics than bombastic broadcasters. The purchase of Radio Mambí’s station group is more about controlling Florida’s media ecosystem than stymying disinformation, they say. 

“The acquisition is a political play, disguised as a media play and born out of the left’s desperation over its continued inability to persuade Hispanics,” the director of the conservative-leaning Media Research Center Latino, Jorge Bonilla, said. “This was never about disinformation, but about control.”

Latinos are the largest minority group voter bloc in the United States. According to a report by the data firm Catalist, during the 2020 election the Latino vote swung toward Mr. Trump by 8 points when compared with the 2016 election. Recent polls have found that President Biden’s approval rating among Latinos, at 26 percent, is lower than among almost any other ethnic group.

Radio Mambí’s prospective new owners have been relatively mum about their plans for the station and the 17 others they seek to acquire. The acquisition still needs to obtain Federal Communications Commision approval and go through a one-year transition period between TelevisaUnivision and Latino Media Community.

Ms. Morales Rocketto said in a press statement released on Friday that she believes radio is the main resource to reach the community, and that they will serve the Latino population “with the news and information that local communities deserve.”

In an interview with WLRN radio in Miami, Ms. Valencia said Radio Mambí’s programming may be tweaked but it will not be turned into a left-wing station.

“There are elements of Radio Mambí that are really important to preserve,” Ms. Valencia said. “It has been an important part of the community and experience in Miami.”

“But we do believe in … balanced journalism,” she added.

The New York Sun

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