Spanish Media Eye Recall Race With Different Lenses

Coverage of the California recall election among Spanish language media would lead some voters to believe that not only are the Spanish networks speaking a different language, but that they are covering a different governor's race.

When actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) announced he was running to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search) in the Oct. 7 recall election, it led virtually every newscast in the country — every newscast in English, that is.

Los Angeles' top-rated Spanish-language station did not even mention Schwarzenegger's announcement until after its first commercial break.

"There were bigger news items for our community that day," said Jorge Mettey, KMEX-TV news director.

Yet when Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search), the son of Mexican immigrants, announced his candidacy a day later, KMEX led with the story.

While English-language media focused on the recall's carnival atmosphere and Schwarzenegger's star power, Spanish outlets began attacking Schwarzenegger for his support of Proposition 187 (search), a 1994 initiative that would have prohibited government from providing benefits and services to illegal immigrants.

Bustamante vociferously campaigned against the measure. Voters passed the proposition by 59 percent, but it was blocked by the courts.

Spanish-language TV stations, of which there are five in southern California alone, also have reported extensively on Schwarzenegger's opposition to granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, and his choice of former Gov. Pete Wilson (search), an advocate of Prop 187, to be Schwarzenegger's campaign co-chair.

Spanish channels make no bones about the fact that they consider themselves community activists, and that they are willing to focus more on Bustamante, who they say is more interesting to their audience.

"We do, in a way, focus a little bit more on Latino candidates because we have to present to our readers what is the agenda and how do they relate to us," said Jose-Luis Sierra, La Opinion assistant managing editor.

Though Schwarzenegger's rags-to-riches story is one that immigrants have aspired to for generations, polls show the Austrian immigrant well behind Bustamante among Hispanic voters.

A Latino Opinions poll conducted shortly after both candidates announced showed that among the 315 Hispanic voters surveyed, 58 percent would support Bustamante compared to 24 percent for Schwarzenegger. Thirteen percent were undecided.

Some observers suggest the Spanish media are just being good stewards to their target audiences.

"They are being much more balanced about looking at Schwarzenegger as a celebrity, yes, who is popular, but who doesn't necessarily click with the broader set of issues that immigrants and working people care about," said Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a public policy professor at UCLA.

Spanish language news managers say they are not promoting anyone's candidacy, but admit to being more sympathetic to those who are pro-immigrant. And with 20 percent of Latino voters getting their information exclusively in Spanish, a little positive coverage can translate into big numbers at the polls.

Fox News' Trace Gallagher and Brian Loring contributed to this report.