A Laurel to Univision 41’s Arantxa Loizaga

For making good use of the familiar, local-anchor-goes-to-White House encounter

AUSTIN, TX — Often, when a local television station gets summoned for a one-on-one interview with the president, it goes pretty much as scripted by the White House press office. The president has a particular message to get to a particular market and the hardened, regular White House press—daily victims of the same—snickers as the locals troop through.

Arantxa Loizaga of San Antonio’s Univision 41, a Spanish-language station, was one of eight reporters invited to the White House last Wednesday to “talk about how budget cuts in the looming sequester will affect their markets, according to USA Today, which added that it “was the latest move in an ongoing campaign by Obama.”

The White House press office, Loizaga told me in an interview, actually indicated that it wanted to talk about the Fix-it-First program, Obama’s plan to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure. Yet it was another topic entirely on which Loizaga focused several of her questions: immigration. Loizaga—the only Spanish-language news anchor invited by the White House last week and the only one from Texas—deserves a Laurel for asking tough questions face-to-face with the president on a topic that may not have been on the White House’s script for the day but is of keen interest to Loizaga’s viewers. (In late 2011, by the way, Nielsen rated Univision 41 number one in the market in prime time among adults 18 to 54).

Loizaga got the standard White House tour—veggie garden! Oval Office rug!—and, yes, wove that into her report, which aired at different lengths and on multiple Univision 41 programs last week. But when she got her five minutes standing—per the White House’s usual choreography for these interviews—face-to-face with the president, Loizaga wasted no time getting into the immigration issue. (In a long version that aired at 10pm last Wednesday, Loizaga also covered early education in San Antonio, the infrastructure initiative, and implementation of Obamacare in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry refuses to participate).

The president confirmed to Loizaga that the so-called draft “Plan B” immigration plan, leaked the previous weekend, was indeed his, and said that while he preferred to work with Congress on immigration reform, he wanted to have a back-up. The president stepped on Loizaga’s line as she finished her question about the leaked plan and sounded defensive, claiming, “I haven’t put the [immigration reform] process at risk.” He frequently cut off Loizaga’s subsequent questions to answer with his talking points.

Loizaga’s second-to-last question was suggested by Univision 41/KWEX viewers on the station’s Facebook page: Would Obama halt the large-scale deportations of undocumented immigrants while Washington passed comprehensive immigration reform? The commander-in-chief paused and seemed clearly displeased to have to say “no” to the only Spanish-language station summoned to the White House—and all their viewers, in an area where the administration’s get-tough immigration policy is very unpopular. Obama leaned on talking points, said he has to enforce the laws of the land, and ended with: “For now, I can’t do more” (which became the headline to the interview on the station’s web site).

Clearly it was an awkward moment for the president. Hispanics are a vital constituency for the Democratic Party and yet the president is behind an unpopular and record surge in deportations—even as he backs immigration reform.

Originally from Mexico City, Loizaga, at 29, found being summoned to the White House an “adrenaline rush,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to do their PR for them.”

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Richard Parker is an award-winning journalist and the author of Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America, from Pegasus Books. Follow him on Twitter @Richard85Parker.