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The Kushner Connection

Some Univision journliasts saw the Trump interview as glaring evidence of a broader effort by their new parent company—which has close ties to Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—to curry favor with the former president.
Some Univision journliasts saw the Trump interview as glaring evidence of a broader effort by their new parent company—which has close ties to Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—to curry favor with the former president. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
November 10, 2023

Earlier this week, former president Donald Trump gave an interview to Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster, during which he threatened to weaponize the F.B.I. and the Justice Department against his political opponents. The statements, which came on the heels of a Washington Post report revealing that Trump and his allies had been drawing up plans to use the federal government to retaliate against adversaries and former cabinet members, were arguably the most brazenly authoritarian remarks the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has made to date in a mainstream media interview. And the interview reasonably unnerved the political pundit class—“dangerous” and “insane” are among the words that have reverberated across cable news in the last 24 hours.

Inside Univision, however, the hour-long sit-down raised alarms for another reason. The interview, which was conducted by a non-Univision journalist who did little to question or push back on Trump’s claims, effectively functioned as a propaganda special, current and former Univision journalists have protested. In it, they saw glaring evidence of a broader effort by their new parent company, which has close ties to Trump and especially to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to curry favor with the former president and push the network further to the right. 

Meanwhile, sources inside the Biden administration are similarly wary about the network’s handling of the special, especially after its eleventh-hour decision to forgo a scheduled interview with an administration representative and cancel several Biden campaign ads that had been slated to run during the interview. (A Univision spokesperson did not respond to a request to take questions regarding the interview.)

In early 2022, Univision closed a $4.8 billion merger with Mexican television giant Televisa, creating TelevisaUnivision and elevating longtime Televisa executive Bernardo Gómez Martínez to the top of the new media juggernaut. Gómez, who serves as the company’s co-C.E.O., is described by Univision sources as a media kingmaker and the company’s main political operator and power broker, and some note that he was instrumental in the political rise of former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Gómez has also struck up a close relationship with Kushner in recent years: The two men have hosted one another at their respective homes in Mexico City and New York, and in 2018, Gómez helped facilitate the Mexican government’s decision to award Kushner with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor Mexico bestows upon foreigners—an honor Trump referenced during the interview. (At the time, Peña Nieto called Kushner a “grand ally of Mexico.”)

Since the merger, Univision’s editorial stance has shifted rightward, network sources said, presenting a stark contrast to the more adversarial posture Univision was known for during Trump’s first campaign. Indeed, the last time Trump spoke to Univision on camera was in 2015, when he repeatedly told then-star anchor Jorge Ramos to “sit down” during a press briefing before Ramos was thrown out for refusing to stop asking questions. Under TelevisaUnivision, Univision has made a greater effort to interview Republican politicians, the sources said, and earlier this year the network partnered with Fox Business as host of the second G.O.P. presidential primary debate—the first time Univision has ever partnered with Fox Corp. Some Univision journalists said developments like that reminded them of David Zaslav’s early attempt to reposition CNN as a centrist network by toning down anti-Republican rhetoric and hosting more conservative guests. (Coincidentally, Zaslav is a member of TelevisaUnivision’s board of directors, having joined Univision’s board in 2012.)

Univision journalists have varying feelings about the broader editorial shift, but TelevisaUnivision’s handling of the Trump interview took newsroom concern to a new level. The interview was conducted by Enrique Acevedo, a Televisa anchor and CBS News correspondent who seemed to show total deference to Trump over the course of a one-hour interview in which, in addition to his remarks about weaponizing the F.B.I. and D.O.J., Trump defended the separation of migrant families at the border and repeatedly claimed that the indictments against him were a political hoax. Sources inside Univision said it was highly unusual for the network to give an interview with an American political candidate to a non-Univision journalist.

In another move that raised eyebrows, Gómez and other top Televisa and Univision executives were present at Mar-a-Lago for the interview, a fact first reported by Semafor’s Max Tani, who published early excerpts of the interview on Thursday. During the interview, Trump also went out of his way to praise Univision’s owners: “[Latinos] have incredible skills, incredible energy, and they’re very entrepreneurial,” he said. “All you have to do is look at the owners of Univision. They’re unbelievable entrepreneurial people. And they like me.”

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is also suspicious about TelevisaUnivision’s motives following the network’s decision to renege on advertising deals and an interview programmed for the Trump special. Three days before the interview ran, a Univision advertising director had reached out to the Biden team to alert them to the Trump interview and offer advertising inventory, the sources said. The Biden team paid for several advertising spots in Miami and other local markets in key voting states, as they customarily do during Trump interviews and Republican presidential debates, and received confirmation of the buys from Univision. 

But on Thursday afternoon, the Univision representative informed the Biden team that they had a policy against running political ads during single-candidate news specials—a policy the sources close to the White House described as highly irregular. At the same time, Univision abruptly canceled an interview it had planned to conduct following the Trump special with Biden Hispanic Media Director Maca Casado. (A Univision spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment regarding these decisions.)

Inside Univision and Biden world, sources are wary about what they see as an overt effort to normalize and tacitly endorse Trump’s rhetoric, whether for Republican advertising dollars, currying favor with political allies, or broader motives. Whatever the case, one Univision source said, the special was “a repudiation of everything we stand for.”