Mark Halperin, the managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, has been accused of cultural insensitivity for pushing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to prove his Hispanic identity in an interview, with questions about the presidential candidate’s favourite Cuban dish, Cuban music, and a challenge for Cruz to speak Spanish.
Halperin’s April 30 interview of Cruz was thrust into the spotlight after syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette published a piece reacting to the exchange. In his column, Navarette took Halperin to task for “bad journalism, bad form, and bad manners.”
“You crossed the line,” Navarrette wrote this weekend in his column, adding “I was actually nauseated.”
The interview took place one day after Cruz spoke at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Halperin asked his guest, who appeared via satellite, “Your last name is Cruz and you’re from Texas, just based on that, should you have appeal to Hispanic voters?”
Cruz delivered a long winded response, explaining “my family story, my personal experience is an experience that resonates in the Hispanic community.”
Afterwards, Halperin focused his questions on the details of Cruz’s Hispanic heritage.
“People are really interested in you and your identity. So I just want to ask you as a historical matter, when you filled out your application to Princeton, to Harvard Law School, did you list yourself as an Hispanic?” Halperin asked.
Cruz responded, “Oh sure, I’ve listed myself as Cuban-American. That’s my heritage and my background.”
“I want to close and talk a little bit more about your Cuban heritage and ask you in the following categories whether you have an affinity for or a connection to anything part of your Cuban past,” Halperin inquired.
The host then went on to pepper Cruz with a series of questions.
“You have a favourite Cuban food or Cuban dish?” he asked.
Cruz responded, “Oh, I grew up eating Cuban food all the time.”
But Halperin pressed him, “what’s your favourite dish?”
“Picadillo, I grew up eating all the time. We had plantains we had beans and rice. For Christmas we would have, we would roast a whole pig a lot of years for Christmas Eve and so my grandparents, my abuelo and abuela, they didn’t speak English. My abuela was an incredible cook,” he said.
“Do you like Cuban music? Do you have a favourite Cuban singer?” Halperin continued.
“I have to admit, in that I’m much more of a Texan. I tend to listen to country music more than Cuban music,” the Republican answered.
Halperin then wondered, “on the political front, what is your aspiration for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. What percentage of the Hispanic vote/Latino vote would you think the party could get?”
Cruz said he hoped to get the “majority of the Hispanic vote.”
Halperin closed the interview by giving Cruz a chance to “welcome” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) into the presidential race. However, Halperin asked Cruz to speak to Sanders in Spanish.
“I’d like you to do it, if you would, en Español,” Halperin said.
Cruz declined the offer.
“I’m going to stick to English but I appreciate the invitation Señor,” Cruz replied.
Though the interview occurred on April 30, Navarrette used his column on May 9 to call Halperin “smug and clueless.”
“As a journalist, I felt embarrassed for Halperin. ,” he added.
Navarette’s column sparked an online backlash against Halperin. On Twitter, the interview was widely mocked on the hashtag “#HalperinQuestions” where people identified ridiculous things they said fit Halperin’s interview style. Several commentators also followed Navarette’s lead and wrote pieces dismissing the interview as “racist.”
Neither Halperin nor Bloomberg responded to a request for comment on this story. A spokesperson for Cruz’s presidential campaign also declined to comment.
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