Hispanic Caucus Chair Chides NBC Executives for ‘Insensitivity’ in Meeting with Lawmakers

Updated

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that she is “disappointed” in how some NBC executives handled a meeting with lawmakers in which NBC News President Deborah Turness referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals,” for which she apologized.

Politico reported on Wednesday that some lawmakers were upset after Turness used the reference, and one corrected her.

According to Politico, Turness was describing the network’s integration with their Spanish language network Telemundo. She had been talking about a girl who interacted with Pope Francis during his visit to Washington and had expressed her fear that her parents would be deported.

One lawmaker, according to Politico, corrected Turness when she used the term “illegals” to describe the incident.

“I’m going to stop you right there. We use the term undocumented immigrants,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).

She apologized for using the term, according to the account and a source familiar with the meeting.

A spokesperson for Vargas did not return a message for comment.

A source at the network said that she simply misspoke and was speaking in a respectful and compassionate way about the issue of family separation.

But Sanchez released a statement in which she said, “I am disappointed in how some NBC executives handled the meeting. It’s hard to believe that yesterday’s meeting, whether or not it was intentional, left many members of the Hispanic Caucus even more offended than before they came in.

“The Hispanic Caucus is working hard to promote diversity in the workforce. The insensitivity of these comments are a good example of why there needs to greater diversity at the top and throughout organizations like NBC.”

According to Politico, Turness at one point spoke Spanish, but said “We love the Hispanic community…Yo hablo español.”

The meeting was to talk about diversity in the news division, but some lawmakers have been upset with NBC’s entertainment division over the decision to invite Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live.”

A network spokesperson described the meeting to Politico as “an open and respectful dialogue about the progress that’s been made on diversity both in front of and behind the camera in the news division.”

Update: Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) told Variety that the “meeting was to talk about the relationship between NBC and the Hispanic community and it ended up being a meeting that was not really productive at all.”

He said that an NBC representative, in opening remarks, referenced Trump’s hosting gig as an issue “that is heavily on your mind.” But when one of the lawmakers asked about it, they were told that they couldn’t answer because they were from the news division, not entertainment.

Cardenas has been outspoken in opposition to the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which was eventually scuttled this year. He said that he was looking for an update on a memorandum of understanding to boost diversity as part of Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal in 2011, but he was unsatisfied with their answer because the executive did not provide raw numbers, but percentages of improvement. Only then, he said, could they weigh hiring progress in context.

He said that when Turness talked in Spanish, “A bunch of us just looked at each other thinking, ‘What is that all about?'”

 

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