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Obama Courts Ethnic Press

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009; 5:09 PM

Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo isn't a national media figure, but last month he found himself on the line with President Obama.

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"We're so proud," the popular Los Angeles radio host said. "I know you are the president for everybody. . . . Congratulations on your accomplishment. . . . Is there some sort of network we could establish to be in communication regarding the comprehensive immigration reform? And personally, what can I do?"

The conversation last month was one of a spate of interviews that Obama has done with Hispanic media outlets. And the White House plans to do more, even though most of the questioners have been a tad tougher than Sotelo.

"We should have a conscious strategy of communicating through Hispanic media," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says in an interview. "It's one of the fastest-growing groups in the country. Telemundo is one of the most significant media outlets."

Telemundo apparently agrees. The Spanish-language network was granted an interview in Florida last month, days after complaining about being left out when the president appeared on ABC, CBS and NBC.

Anchor Pedro Sevcec asked Obama about the need to create jobs, especially in construction, an industry "very dear to the Hispanic community." Sevcec also asked whether Latin America would be a priority. And he noted that "our network, Telemundo, is starting a big campaign for Hispanics to make sure that they are counted in the next census. A lot of them are afraid, you know, of participating, because they think, 'I don't have the papers to live in this country.' " The president responded by encouraging Latinos to participate and saying it has been "true historically" that such information has not been shared with immigration authorities.

Sevcec says that his network is on "very good terms" with the White House and that the interview was important because of the millions of Hispanic immigrants living "in the shadows."

"You have the president of the United States saying, 'This is my word.' You can interview people in the census every day, and 100 of those interviews won't carry the power of a president."

Vice President Joe Biden invited three Hispanic journalists to a background briefing last month. One of them, Juan Carlos López, Washington correspondent for CNN en Español, asked him about administration policy toward Cuba. López did the same at an on-the-record sit-down with Emanuel, who said he wanted to be "sensitive" on Cuba policy because "there is a lot of domestic politics" among Cuban Americans. After some wire reports, in López's view, exaggerated that answer, Fidel Castro issued a lengthy, defiant response.

López says White House officials "understand the importance of keeping contact with the Hispanic media," and though he interviewed President George W. Bush twice, "we didn't have this kind of access."

Sevcec reported after an off-the-record briefing with a top official -- he won't confirm it was Biden -- that additional federal aid for ailing Citigroup was imminent. He says administration officials complained about the story, which turned out to be true. "Sometimes you say things they don't like and they let you know that," he says.

The nation's first African American president isn't neglecting black media outlets either. His first print interview after taking office was with Black Enterprise magazine. Editor in Chief Derek Dingle asked the president about the 12.6 percent unemployment rate among African Americans and how he plans to run the Minority Business Development Agency.


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