POLITICS

NBC executive says she didn’t mean to offend Latino lawmakers: ‘Yo hablo español’

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21:  President of NBC News, Deborah Turness speaks onstage during the International Women's Media Foundation's 2015 Courage in Journalism Awards on October 21, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for IWMF)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21: President of NBC News, Deborah Turness speaks onstage during the International Women's Media Foundation's 2015 Courage in Journalism Awards on October 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for IWMF)  (2015 Getty Images)

If Latino lawmakers thought they were going to walk out of a meeting with NBC executives feeling assured that the media company was turning a new leaf following protests over Donald Trump's appearance on "Saturday Night Live," they were sorely mistaken.

Things turned tense almost immediately when NBC News President Deborah Turness began talking about undocumented immigrants and referred to them as "illegals" – a term that is not only considered offensive to many Latinos but one that has also fallen out of favor in many parts of the country.

According to a story by Politico, Turness was telling Hispanic members of the House about NBC's integration with their Spanish-language network, Telemundo, which included a story about Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. and his meeting with a young girl who was afraid her parents would be deported because they're "illegals."

"I'm going to stop you right there. We use the term undocumented immigrants," California Democratic, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) told Turness, who apologized for the remark.

Later, she tried to assure the lawmakers that the network understood the community and its concerns.

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"We love the Hispanic community,” she said. “Yo hablo español."

The meeting was already expected to be tense given the strong backlash from Latino leaders and activist groups after the announcement that Trump would host SNL.

The furor against Trump began in June when he announced his Republican candidacy for president and described some Mexicans who are in the United States illegally as criminals and rapists.

Hours before his appearance on the show's earlier in November, dozens of protesters marched from Trump Tower to NBC's studio in Rockefeller Plaza, carrying signs and chanting in both English and Spanish. In Spanish, they chanted: "The people united shall never be defeated." Signs called the show racist.

Trump's comments last summer did spur NBC to sever its Miss Universe ties with him while declaring he would never return to his "Apprentice" role. But leading up to his appearance, NBC did not respond to accusations that it had reversed itself because they invited him to host the show.

The meeting between Latino leaders and NBC was expected to ease the animosity that the network has generated from the Trump fiasco, but Turness appeared to do more harm than good with her comments during the sit-down.

Lawmakers left irate at Turness and her fellow NBC executives.

The NBC officials gathered at the meeting also told the lawmakers that they could not discuss Trump's SNL appearance because they represented the news side of NBC, prompting the lawmakers to question why the network didn't make more of an effort to include someone from the entertainment side.

"There was a lot of frustration in the room," said California Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). "You know that (Trump is) an issue on all of our minds and as soon as you start talking about it, you say none of the executives for the entertainment (division) are here. It was a cop out. It was disingenuous."

The meeting "was about them sitting down with the Hispanic caucus for the sake of saying they met with us," Cárdenas added. "Like that is progress."

While little progress was made toward resolving the anger over Trump's "SNL" appearance, NBC News did make some steps to toward promoting diversity in the newsroom – including adding more Hispanic correspondents to "NBC Nightly News." The company also said Jose Diaz-Balart, an MSNBC and Telemundo host, will officially become a rotating anchor on the Saturday edition of "Nightly News" and will be a regular contributor to "Meet the Press."

Yet, the lawmakers did not leave satisfied.

"Members left more offended and more upset then when they walked in there. There was major 'Hispandering,'" said a Democratic staffer. "There is definitely hurt there."

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