White House official who bettered Hispanic media access steps down

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 8, 2013 

— An Obama administration official credited with improving White House access for the burgeoning Hispanic news media is leaving his post.

Luis Miranda, 36, who grew up in South Florida and staffed then-presidential candidate Al Gore’s Miami-Dade campaign office, is stepping down to return to the private sector as a communications consultant. The White House’s director of Hispanic media, Miranda is credited – within the White House and the Hispanic media – with helping to provide access not seen in previous administrations. The outreach came as the White House was courting the growing Hispanic vote, which helped President Barack Obama win re-election last fall.

"The Hispanic media too often has been treated as a distant second string," said Cecilia Munoz, Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser. "Luis really has shepherded a new era of access."

That includes the first bilingual White House daily news briefing, as well as invitations to Hispanic TV anchors to the traditional off-the-record luncheons that Obama holds before big speeches, including his State of the Union address.

Miranda said he’d viewed his position as an advocate for the administration, “but also an advocate internally, finding opportunities to integrate Hispanic media into everything we do.”

He also pushed for access to senior administration officials and said he was aided by former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who sat down with the Hispanic press for a roundtable interview shortly after taking office. “He helped set the tone for the rest of the administration, showing that if he had the time, others did,” Miranda said.

Earlier administrations had included outreach to Hispanic media, but generally with a representative responsible for “specialty media,” which included African-American and gay and lesbian publications, among others. Miranda said his position was the first to be dedicated to the Hispanic press, answering questions for print reporters and appearing on radio and television, speaking for Obama in Spanish.

The push for more access for the Hispanic press corresponded with an increase in Hispanic media outlets: NBC has launched a Latino website, NBC Latino, and has begun working more closely with Telemundo, the Spanish-language broadcast network it owns; ABC and Univision announced plans last month for a cable network targeting U.S. Hispanics; and Fox launched a Hispanic website, Fox News Latino.

“Everybody is starting to look at this market to figure out how they tap into it,” Miranda said.

The White House press corps, which covers Obama on a daily basis, has frequently been at odds with the administration over access to the president. But Lori Montenegro, a general assignment reporter with Telemundo, said Miranda had helped elevate the profile of Hispanic journalists at the White House.

“In the years I’ve been here, he’s been the most successful person we’ve had,” said Montenegro, who also covered the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Montenegro said Miranda “didn’t always give us everything we wanted, but if we’re going to be fair, there’s more access.”

Many of the Hispanic Washington-based correspondents aren’t solely White House reporters, often responsible for covering Congress, as well as entities such as the Organization of American States. So Miranda said he’d pushed to make sure Hispanic reporters were recognized in news briefings, figuring they’d return if they could get questions answered.

Obama has done several dozen interviews in Hispanic TV, print, wires and radio, Miranda said, and has fielded questions from Hispanic media outlets at news conferences. He’s also written opinion pieces for Hispanic newspapers.

One of Miranda’s most successful initiatives, Montenegro said, was ensuring that administration officials spoke to Hispanic media regardless of their fluency in Spanish.

“There’s a perception that Hispanic media will only talk to people who speak Spanish. But the president doesn’t, the House speaker doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate and don’t want to speak to them,” she said. “Luis understood that, and did a good job of conveying that message.”

Miranda was the lead communications contact on immigration for the administration, and he helped champion Obama’s signature health care legislation.

The administration has set a standard for Hispanic press access that other administrations will be obliged to continue, said Federico Subervi, the director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media & Markets at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University in San Marcos.

“They’ve set a solid foundation that others will be judged on,” he said. “Instead of an afterthought – ‘Hey, Jose, why don’t we translate this?’ – they have an entity dedicated to outreach.”

Subervi cited a number of factors, including the growth of Hispanic media and the increasing clout of the Hispanic voting bloc, for the administration’s outreach effort.

“And Latino leaders have put pressure on this administration to reach out and connect with them,” he said. “And they’ve done it more than any other administration.”

Miranda, whose last day in the White House was Friday, plans on staying in D.C. to do strategic consulting. The White House expects to fill his post, he said.

He graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and his grandparents lived in Hialeah, both north of Miami. He attended Florida Atlantic University, where he got involved in student government politics.

He later did an internship in Washington and worked for the Democratic National Committee. He went back to Miami for the 2000 Gore campaign, running the Miami-Dade field office. He also worked with the Service Employees International Union’s Florida State Council, helping to push a class-size cap into Florida’s Constitution.

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark

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