Published January 11, 2011
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez made history when she was sworn in New Year's Day as the nation's first Latina governor.
But the rising GOP star's momentous victory for the Hispanic community earned her little recognition in the national media.
Several mainstream news outlets like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune -- even FoxNews.com -- neglected to mention her Hispanic heritage, while others such as the New York Times failed to cover the events as she took the oath during a chilly outdoor ceremony on the Santa Fe Plaza.
The apparent oversight prompted some media analysts to question why Martinez – as well as a handful of conservative Hispanics – has been left largely out of the national news spotlight.
"The media is not paying sufficient attention to the number of Hispanic conservatives who are elected to statewide offices and to Congress, especially in the western states," said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communication at the Heritage Foundation and a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
"It goes against the narrative" of the "liberal media," he said, adding that the news industry has long classified Hispanics as "another liberal group."
Martinez’s story is an impressive one. The 51-year-old former district attorney, from middle class roots in El Paso, graduated near the top of her high school class before attending the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Oklahoma College of Law. In 1996, Martinez was elected district attorney of the state’s 3rd Judicial District, which covers heavily-Democratic Doña Ana County. Touting herself as a no-nonsense prosecutor during the 2010 gubernatorial election, Martinez defeated the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, Diane Denish.
But the Republican’s rise to statewide office garnered little attention in the national spotlight overall.
The Associated Press made note of Martinez's historic inauguration in a news wire Jan. 1, acknowledging her as the first female governor of the state, while omitting her Hispanic heritage. That story was picked up by several media outlets including the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune websites. FoxNews.com also ran the AP story that day, but Fox News Latino had covered Martinez's candidacy and victory in a series of election articles beginning in October.
The AP later updated its Jan.1 inauguration day wire mentioning her as the first Latina governor. A search of the New York Times website yielded no stories on Martinez’s historic inauguration, and CNN mentioned her status as the nation's "first Hispanic female governor" in a broadcast on Jan. 2.
Some media analysts note that coverage of Martinez’s victory pales in comparison to other history-making Hispanics, like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, whose confirmation to the high court dominated the headlines for months.
“I think it’s quite obvious that first Latino Democrats are celebrated but first Latino Republicans are the objects of scorn,” said Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center. “The media wants the public to think of the Republican Party as an old white guy party and they’ll downplay anything that contradicts with that image.”
Not so, says Ari Rabin-Havt, executive vice president of Media Matters, a left-leaning media watchdog group.
“Milestones should be noted and we should celebrate diversity,” he said, “But the idea that the liberal media is somehow covering this up is completely ridiculous.”
Rabin-Havt was quick to point out that Fox News – considered by some as an alternative to the mainstream media – gave little coverage of Martinez’s historic inauguration.
"That speaks volumes," he said.
He also called the comparison between Martinez and Sotomayor unfair, saying the justice’s nomination and confirmation hearing was a “national process,” warranting ongoing national attention.
Other media observers, meanwhile, suggest that Martinez -- not the media -- set the course for her own coverage.
The Republican has diverted attention away from her ethnicity in public, including an interview published by Fox News Latino in which she said she hopes history will define her by her achievements as governor rather than by her race or gender.
“I’m very proud of what I have accomplished as a female and as a Latina, but it has come with a lot of hard work and education, and I know that I have to prove myself beyond the fact that I’m a female and Latina,” Martinez told Latina magazine.
“You’re actually speaking to the first Latina governor of New Mexico and only that…As a female and a Latina—it’s not that that will be historic. It will be the results.”