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Report Spotlights 'Under-the-Radar' Spanish-Language Radio Disinformation In Miami

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John Minchillo
/
AP
TRUMPISTA UNTRUTHS Trump supporters storm the U.S. Congress Capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6.

An examination of falsehoods aired by Miami's Spanish-language stations after January's Capitol riot raises larger questions about their corrosive effects.

Carinés Moncada gained notoriety last year after she made the racist, on-air claim that Black Lives Matter is a Satanic cult out to "destroy U.S. cities." The day after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in Washington D.C., Moncada — who co-hosts the popular Spanish-language radio talk show “Cada Tarde” (Each Afternoon) on Miami AM station Actualidad — took aim at BLM again.

"We've confirmed that an An African-American activist from Black Lives Matter who on several occasions has called for the violent removal of [then] President Trump from the White House has been identified as one of the people who entered the Congress building," Moncada falsely asserted.

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Moncada's "Cada Tarde" co-host Augustin Acosta then just as falsely claimed that "facial recognition technology" proved that BLM and Antifa militants had infiltrated the Capitol insurrection mob and stoked the violence that left five people dead.

To repeat: that claim hasn't just been proven utterly false — it had already been widely retracted by a number of pro-Trump media outlets before Moncada and Acosta went ahead and broadcast it on their show.

It’s the sort of right-wing conspiracy — another was the false trope that Joe Biden would be a dictatorial "socialista" — that Spanish-language radio in Miami was blasting around the clock that week in January "like surround sound," say media watchdogs.

And so those monitors have now focused on that week in hopes of showing just how rife disinformation is on the Spanish airwaves here. Their report, released last week, is called “Disinformation in Miami After the Capitol Insurrection.”

READ MORE: Why Are So Many Latinos Obsessed With Demonizing Black Lives Matter?

“There’s a feeling that there’s no accountability, less oversight for these Spanish-language outlets — that they're allowed to fly under the radar," said one of the report's lead authors, Andrea Mercado, who co-directs the political empowerment nonprofit Florida Rising in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida Rising compiled "Disinformation in Miami" with the nonprofit Miami Freedom Project and communications firms Latina Comunica and Prospero Latino.

The report examines four radio shows between Jan. 6 and 13 on Miami’s top Spanish-language stations, Actualidad Radio and Radio Mambí. Mambí is owned by Spanish-language TV network Univision, based in Doral.

Mercado says their constant repetition of former President Trump’s lie that the election he lost was fraudulent stood out.

“Y’know, as someone who works with hundreds of election volunteers," Mercado said, "to me Agustin Acosta’s comments that 'Thousands of dead people voted, that thousands of people who weren't citizens voted, that thousands of people voted from prison' (and, by the way, Mercado is quoting Acosta directly from the "Cada Tarde" recordings) was really alarming because it really does undermine belief in our democracy and our electoral process."

There's a feeling that there's no accountability, less oversight for these Spanish-language outlets - that they're allowed to fly under the radar and undermine belief in our democracy."
Andrea Mercado

Acosta did not respond to WLRN's requests for comment. Nor did Moncada or Actualidad management.

And nor did the Miami U.S. Congress members who are often guests on these Spanish-language shows. They include Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar who, shortly after the Capitol insurrection, went on Radio Mambí with "En Mi Opinión" host Ninoska Perez and claimed, falsely, that "in Pennsylvania there [were] 200,000 more votes" than there were registered voters in the state.

Perez took the statement as fact and then added her own falsehood: that "the great majority of this country" doubted the election results and believed it may have been stolen from Trump. At the time, most polls showed some 80% of Americans believed the results were legitimate.

Perez also did not respond to WLRN requests for comment.

'MACHIAVELLIAN PLAN'

What's more, WLRN found that since January South Florida members of Congress have kept up their role in disinformation on local Spanish-language radio.

In March, "Cada Tarde" hosted Miami Congressman Carlos Gimenez to talk about the border crisis. The hosts claimed President Biden is letting thousands of undocumented immigrants in as part of a “Machiavellian plan," as Acosta put it, to make them Democratic voters. To which Gimenez replied:

"No te dudo." I don't doubt it.

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Carines Moncada (left) and Agustin Acosta of the Cada Tarde show on Actualidad Radio.

English-language talk radio is of course guilty of disinformation, too. But because, as the “Disinformation in Miami” report points out, Spanish-language radio tends to fly under the U.S.'s public and regulatory radar, media watchdogs say its disinformation also tends to be more brazen.

In Miami, Actualidad is the most listened to AM station — and Latinos are the majority population. That raises bigger concerns about the broader effect on public discourse than it perhaps would in other U.S. markets.

“The tone, the vitriol that comes from this, the impact is more acute here," said Eduardo Gamarra, a political scientist at Florida International University in Miami who also monitors Spanish-language communications.

Gamarra points out the chilling effect Spanish-language radio disinformation may be having here on the expression of different perspectives as well as outright facts.

“They’re getting away with it," Gamarra said of the Spanish-language outlets. "And so it somehow becomes OK. It’s not only OK, but now it’s truth. And as a result, those who think differently aren’t as comfortable voicing opinions that are contrary to what’s the dominant rhetoric.”

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Miami Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar celebrating her election victory last November.

Gamarra adds a big part of the issue isn't just the disinformation but what he calls la coyuntura — the conjuncture of U.S. and Latin American politics in Miami Spanish-language media. It can make the demonization of dissenting viewpoints more intense — and the use of disinformation a more-accepted means to an end of promoting the downfall of communist and socialist regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, or the suppression of leftist politics in Colombia.

Many Colombian expats here voted for Trump believing, thanks in no small part to Spanish-language radio lies, that Biden is a radical "izquierdista," or left-winger.

"What happens politically in Colombia or Venezuela has a big impact politically here," said Gamarra, "and becomes part of the echo chamber."

Perhaps an even bigger question, though, isn't so much why there isn't more monitoring of Spanish-language radio but why there aren't more moderates on those airwaves — more factual, mainstream-style talk radio voices.

Part of the problem is economics. When conservative-leaning media company America CV this year bought Radio Caracol — one of Miami's only moderate Spanish-language radio outlets — Caracol general manager Luis Gutierrez told WLRN it was largely because the station wasn't making money.

"Most Miami [Spanish-language] talk radio is to the far right," Gutierrez said, "and if you're not, it's hard to be profitable."

Still, Mercado of Florida Rising said more moderate and liberal groups and donors "need to invest in the infrastructure of radio and other Spanish-language here" to counter the disinformation problem.

South Florida Latino Democrats especially are sounding that call.

"Donors who believe in democracy need to ensure that all voters are receiving the truth," including Spanish-speaking voters, said Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a Democrat and a Colombian-American media strategist who heads the firm We Are Más in Weston.

"We're letting these cheap-shot radio programs define who Democrats are."

Either way, the “Disinformation in Miami” report is one of the first real efforts to define what's going on inside the city's Spanish-language radio.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.