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‘Fox News in Spanish’: Inside an upstart media company’s big plans .

 

 

Republicans have made notable inroads among Hispanic voters in recent election cycles. Now, a conservative media network is looking to cement and further those gains by trying to become the Fox News of Spanish-speaking America.

Americano Media, which launched in March, is embarking on an aggressive expansion plan to shape center-right Hispanic opinion during the upcoming election cycle. The network has hired more than 80 Latino journalists and producers, are expanding their radio presence to television, and by the end of the year will have studios in Miami, Las Vegas and D.C. with reporters covering the White House, Congress and embedding in 2024 presidential campaigns. This month, Americano is launching a $20 million marketing campaign to draw in new viewers.

It’s the latest development in an arms race to reach and win over the nation’s second-largest demographic group, one playing an increasingly critical role in election outcomes.

“We don’t have a Fox News in Spanish, and that’s what Americano intends to be,” said the network’s CEO and founder Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo. He said he has listened to Hispanic Republican leaders lament for 25 years about the need for something like it, but no one ever took serious action.

Garcia-Hidalgo, who worked as a Hispanic surrogate for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign after a career in telecommunications with Tyco, AT&T and Sprint, said he wants to “blow up” the traditional ways in which conservative Hispanics interact with the media, which he said consisted of going on liberal-leaning networks to “apologize for being Republican, bow your head and take a beating for an hour.”

Americano started with a suite of radio shows out of Miami, where it remains headquartered, but plans to have a presence on television and radio in battleground states across America in the next year, in addition to driving Spanish-speaking audiences to its online and streaming platforms.

To date, Americano Media has raised $18 million from its first three investors, and is set to complete its first and only round of equity investment this spring to generate another $30 to $50 million, Garcia-Hidalgo said. Thomas Woolston, a northern Virginia patent attorney, and Doug Hayden, a San Jose, Calif.-based investor, were the first to provide capital; Americano declined to disclose the third investor.

As a sign of Americano Media’s growth, the network has scored recent interviews with Donald Trump and several top elected Republicans. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo.

Americano is taking every opportunity it can to build a profile in conservative political circles. The network aired live from CPAC Dallas in August. In December, they set up a massive booth on radio row at Turning Point’s AmericaFest, featuring a “No mas fake news” display that delighted attendees at the Phoenix Convention Center who lingered.

nearby to watch a cast of conservative celebrities give interviews. As a sign of their growth, the network has scored recent interviews with Trump and several top elected Republicans, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah), and Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Steve Saclise (La.), along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Ultimately, however, the Spanish language network’s intended audience isn’t the type of conservative diehards who attend political conferences or tune into Steve Bannon’s “War Room.” It’s working-class Hispanic people living in America, who prefer to speak Spanish, aren’t particularly ideological and who lack options for commentary on the news of the day.

“Hispanics are normies,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a GOP strategist who led the 2020 Trump campaign’s Hispanic marketing efforts.

Strategists behind Americano’s expansion efforts say they believe there is a limit to the GOP’s gains with Latinos in recent years. The low-hanging fruit has already fallen, they say, requiring Republicans to do a bit more work to pick off remaining centrist voters, something Americano intends to do by offering a combination of fairly straight news, mixed with conservative commentary and eventually entertainment offerings.

Democratic operatives, who have long warned that the absence of more robust investments in Spanish media could have boomeranging effects, acknowledge that targeting that type of niche audience could be a highly effective plan.
“There is an information war in Latino and bilingual communities in this country,” said Tara McGowan, the founder and publisher of the Democratic-aligned Courier Newsroom network, who has been vocal about the left needing to build new, progressive media outlets. “It’s a very smart and very alarming move by conservatives to double down on their investment in Americano Media.”

Americano’s venture mirrors that of the liberal Latino Media Network, which in June announced the purchase of 18 Latino radio stations around the country. One of those stations, Miami’s Radio Mambi — a longtime fixture in the conservative Cuban-American community — lost several prominent hosts to Americano Media after the sale was announced. Lourdes Ubieta, Dania Alexandrino and Nelson Rubio are among those who made the switch to Americano. Most of Americano’s hosts, producers, directors and technicians came from Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Español, according to network officials.

Mayra Flores has recently signed a contract to become one of Americano Media’s senior political contributors. | LM Otero/AP Photo´.

Mayra Flores, the Republican who flipped a South Texas congressional seat in a June special election, becoming the first female Mexican-born House member, has recently signed a contract to become one of Americano Media’s senior political contributors. Flores lost reelection in November after redistricting made the seat more Democratic.

Other top executives at the startup include Michael Caputo, a who advised Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and briefly served as an official at the Department of Health and Human Services at the start of the Covid pandemic, and Alfonso Aguilar, who led George W. Bush’s citizenship office, is serving as Americano’s political director.

After years of trying to get a news network off the ground and creating a lineup of podcast talk shows, Garcia-Hidalgo launched Americano in March as a partnership with Sirius XM’s Latino variety station. The strategy, he concedes, was not to reach the small number of Latinos listening to satellite radio, but to grab the attention of investors and top radio network executives. Americano pulled its lineup from the satellite channel in October and moved over to a Miami-based Audacy radio station.

The network’s ambitions are broad. By the end of this year, Americano plans to be on 25 radio stations. They’ve added content to every major streaming platform, and have built a and phone app. They’ve spent several million dollars building studios to launch new television programs, with plans underway to be on cable in every major battleground state ahead of the 2024 election, and in Puerto Rico in the coming weeks, Garcia-Hidalgo said.

“The most underserved news consumer is a center-right Spanish speaker,” Flores said in an interview, noting that many of those fairly conservative Latinos in South Texas have traditionally voted Democratic, though some have begun to leave the party, data show.

While heavy on conservative commentary, Americano does feature liberal guests. On one show, Democrat Jose Artistimuño, a former Democratic National Committee press secretary who worked in Barack Obama’s administration, debates Republican Jimmy Nievez each evening. The network says they’re in the process of adding more Democratic commentators to their roster.

“It’s definitely a space that needed to be filled, and I’m saying that as a Democrat,” Artistimuño said of the lack of Republican-versus-Democrat talk shows in Spanish. “I may not agree with all the policies that Americano supports, but that’s OK. In order for democracy to work, both sides need to talk to each other and debate.”

“The biggest challenge Republicans have had is they usually engage Hispanics from a perspective of electoral politics, just to get their vote, and they usually do it three months before an election,” said Aguilar, Americano’s political director. “It’s very difficult to build confidence in a community when you arrive so late.”

One of the problems still facing Republicans has been reaching Latinos who primarily speak Spanish.

Sopo, whose work includes GOP advertising to Latinos, noted that his firm, Visto Media, conducted a poll for a client this fall that found Democrats held a 40-point lead on the midterm ballot with Hispanics who receive all or most of their news in Spanish. That number fell to a 13-point lead with Hispanics who prefer English news sources.

There are also challenges to successfully capturing an audience of Latino viewers hailing from different countries, Sopo said. Content that appeals to Cubans in Miami isn’t always what Mexicans in Texas are interested in. A mix of culture, news and conservative commentary, Sopo said, is likely a “formula for success with Hispanics,” and something that isn’t widely available.

“If they want to broaden out and grow the tent, the programming has to look more like Fox and less like Newsmax and OAN,” Sopo said, referencing two further-right TV news channels. “Straight news, combined with conservative commentary, and you add some entertainment, which they’ll need for that demographic.”

 

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Pope in Hungary meets with Ukrainian refugees, Russian envoy

Pope Francis plunged into both sides of Russia’s war with Ukraine on Saturday, greeting some of the 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border to Hungary during a public prayer service and then meeting privately with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church that has strongly supported the war.

Francis maintained the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality during his second day in Budapest, where he’s on a weekend visit to minister to Hungary’s Catholic faithful.

Starting the day, he thanked Hungarians for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and urged them to help anyone in need. He called for a culture of charity in a country where the prime minister has justified firm anti-immigration policies with fears that migration threatens Europe’s Christian culture.

Speaking in the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s church, named for a princess who renounced her wealth to care for the poor, Francis recalled that the Gospel instructs Christians to show love and compassion to all, especially those experiencing poverty and “even those who are not believers.”

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help to uproot the evils of indifference and selfishness from society, from our cities and the places where we live — indifference is a plague —- and to rekindle hope for a new, more just and fraternal world, where all can feel at home,” he said.

Hungary’s nationalist government has implemented firm anti-immigration policies and refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.

The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians.

While Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country found open doors. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.

One who has chosen to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse who worked in a Kyiv COVID-19 hospital when she fled with her mother and two daughters on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

First she went to the Netherlands, but high costs compelled her to move to Hungary, where she said she has found an apartment and given birth to her third daughter, Mila, who was in the pews Saturday with her mother and sister.

“Here it’s safe,” Misiats said of her new life. She said that she hopes to return to Kyiv one day, but for now she and her children are adapting. “I want to go back home. There it’s my life — it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

Immediately after greeting and encouraging the refugees, Francis visited the Greek Catholic church next door, which has been providing aid to refugees. And then he met with the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion, who developed close relations with the Vatican during his years as the Russian church’s foreign minister. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

The Russian church’s strong support for the Kremlin’s war has rankled the Vatican and prevented a second papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had a 2016 encounter in Cuba that marked the first between a pope and the head of the Russian church. They had planned a second one in June, but the meeting has been indefinitely postponed over Kirill’s support for the war.

In a statement, Hilarion’s office said that he briefed Francis on the social and educational activities of the Russian church in Hungary and its relations with the Catholic Church here. He said that he gave the pope an Italian translation of a six-volume opus on the life of Christ.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, is bringing him as close as he’s come to the front lines of the war. Upon arriving in Budapest on Friday, he denounced the “adolescent belligerence” that had brought war back to European soil and demanded the EU recover its values of peaceful unity to end

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As battle for Sudan continues, civilian deaths top 400

– Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas in and around the capital, residents reported that shops were reopening and normalcy gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking houses.

Now in its third week, the fighting has wounded 2,023 civilians, the syndicate added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people, the Doctors’ Syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once-euphoric hopes for a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped oust former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.

Britain meanwhile was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes declined. The United Arab Emirates announced Saturday it had started evacuating its own citizens along with nationals of 16 other countries.

Over 50,000 Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — have crossed over to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years while a 2021 coup has derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.

Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on their way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.

“There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. That could get worse in the coming days.”

Airlifts from the country amid the chaotic fighting also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane even hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday — despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure early Friday — clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

But in other areas, residents reported signs that the cease-fire had taken hold.

“We are not hearing the bombs as we did before, so we’re hoping that this means they will go back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, a columnist and editor of the daily al-Tayar, who assessed it was safe enough on Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a far-flung village.

But Khartoum residents are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants have moved into civilian homes and taken over stores and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even transformed Mirgany’s newsroom into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also must cope without sufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.

“For the past 14 days we’ve suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.

Residents in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting at least three days to get fuel — complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. Genena’s main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, Sudan’s health ministry said.

“This is unacceptable — and prohibited under international law,” Griffiths said.

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Will you marry me?’ Bulgarian woman contacts News 6 to expose international romance scheme

A 52-year-old Bulgarian woman currently working in Ireland is the latest target of international imposters who use stolen photos of a handsome Carnival Cruise Line officer in an online dating scheme that steals victims’ money.

Alessandro Cinquini, 29, who is known on dating sites as “Alex the Officer,” first contacted News 6 in March 2022 when he discovered his photographs were being used to fool women from Florida to India.

Vanya Dimova contacted News 6 after seeing our reports about Cinquini on the web.

She said an Alex imposter sent her photos and videos of lavish gifts that included a shimmering engagement ring.

Alessandro Cinquini has gone public to warn women across the globe that imposters have stolen his photographs from social media platforms to create “catfish” style profiles that offer love but target money.

News 6 sent 15 questions to her in advance so Dimova could translate and prepare responses during a Zoom interview.

She said she met the Alex imposter on Instagram back on March 26. According to Dimova, the conversation went from casual to romantic very quickly.

“After two days, he told me he was in love with me,” Danya told News 6. “Every day, he tell me he want to buy a house in Bulgaria and live together.”

Cinquini told News 6 the imposters have never stopped using his photos and he assured us he never contacted Dimova.

They have my old pictures from my old life,” Cinquini said. “Most of those pictures aren’t on my Instagram anymore. I canceled them years ago.”

He told News 6 he currently works as a fleet operation center watch officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

Danya sent News 6 a voice message from a man claiming to be Alex.

“I love you, I love you,” the man said.

The voice sounded nothing like Cinquini

Danya said that voice recording was the only evidence she has. She never met the imposter face-to-face or spoke to him on FaceTime or Zoom.

Danya said she became suspicious when the imposter asked her to pay the shipping charges for her gifts. He sent her a Bank of America receipt to prove his account had been frozen.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams in the U.S alone netted an estimated $1.3 billion last year, impacting 70,000 men and women.

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