GOP Contenders Boycott Univision Debate Over Marco Rubio Flap

Oct 5, 2011 7:34pm

The Republican presidential nominees banded together and announced they will boycott a Univision debate this January, claiming the Spanish-language network  engaged in unethical journalistic practices when trying to extort an interview from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

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In a letter to the Republican National Committee, three Florida Hispanic Republicans claimed Univision attempted to extort an interview from Rubio in exchange for not airing a story about the arrest of Rubio’s brother-in-law in 1987. The Florida legislators asked the Republican presidential candidates to not participate in the Univision debate scheduled for Jan. 29, 2012.

All but one major candidate — Ron Paul — confirmed to ABC News that they will not participate in the event until Univision addresses the issue.

Rubio, who some consider to be a viable vice presidential candidate, though he’s denied any desire for the VP slot, declined to discuss the incident when asked to comment on it at the Washington Ideas Forum Wednesday.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” said Rubio. ”The whole thing is something I really don’t even want to comment on.  I didn’t want to comment on it when it happened.  I think people have read the articles. They speak for themselves.  They’re accurate.”

When asked if it is a missed opportunity for the candidates to address the public, Rubio responded, “I think they’ll find alternative forums to communicate with people. I don’t think there will be any shortage of televised debates, including on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”

Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry were the first candidates to announce their boycott of the event, sending letters to Univision executives on Tuesday.

In a letter to Univision president Cesar Conde, Huntsman’s campaign manager, Matt David wrote, “Unless Univision resolves this issue in a timely and satisfactory manner, Gov. Huntsman will not give consideration to your network’s debate currently proposed for January 2012.”

“Univision Network plays an important role in the Hispanic community, so we hope you seek such resolution,” David added. “We ask the other Republican candidates to join us in this decision and will work with them to identify another forum to debate issues that are important to Americans of Hispanic descent in Florida and across our nation.”

“Gov. Rick Perry and our team just learned of Univision’s attempt to unethically pressure a prominent Republican elected official to provide access to the station in return for Univision spiking or softening a story about a relative,” Ray Sullivan, communications director for Perry, wrote in a letter to Randy Falco, the CEO of Univision. “Even in this time of ever-changing media techniques, Univision’s unethical tactics stand out.  Univision’s heavy-handed behavior has no place in the political or public policy area.

“Therefore, Gov. Perry will not consider participating in the Jan. 29, 2012, Univision debate until your network addresses this ethical breach and takes action to correct it.”

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum released statements confirming their decision to boycott the debate unless the matter is resolved.

“We have not received any invitation from Univision for a debate, but we are troubled by these allegations and would not participate in any such debate unless and until Univision satisfactorily addresses this situation,” Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney, said in a statement.

“This issue was brought to Michele’s attention and she has a great deal of respect for Sen. Rubio.  We reserve our right to participate in the Univision debate pending a positive resolution of this matter by Univision,” Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Bachmann, said in a statement.

“The reports of extortion tactics by Univision against Sen. Rubio are disturbing, especially since they cite sources within the news agency,” said Joe Desantis, the communications director for Gingrich. “They must be addressed in a satisfactory manner before Newt will consider appearing at the debate.  We trust that Univision will take the time necessary to conduct a thorough internal investigation into this matter and, if it is true at any level, apologize to Sen. Rubio so that the scheduled debate can continue.”

ABC News reached out to Ron Paul’s campaign about his involvement in the debate, but did not receive a response.

Read more here about the Univision debate controversy.

ABC News’ Susan Archer, Michael Falcone, Emily Friedman, Russell Goldman, Sarah Kunin, Sunlen Miller and Jason Volack contributed to this report.

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