Got a question for Fox? Don't ask

Mexican chief won't take queries from Utah media

Published: Tuesday, May 23 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Kevin Condi raises a new Mexican flag next to an Olmec head at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. (Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press) Kevin Condi raises a new Mexican flag next to an Olmec head at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. (Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press)
No questions. No questions. No questions. No questions. No questions. No questions. That's the official policy for Mexican President Vicente Fox's 24-hour visit to Utah that begins today.
According to the latest version of the Mexican leader's schedule, released Monday by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s office, Fox won't be saying anything here beyond his scripted speeches to various groups, including the Utah Legislature.
The schedule spells out that there are to be "no questions" at each of the six events Fox will attend and includes a note stating that a previously announced news conference "has been canceled due to scheduling changes."
With immigration increasingly a volatile topic, Fox appears to be playing it safe in Utah by avoiding any opportunity to make a misstatement. He even went so far as to cancel meetings with newspaper editorial boards.
 (Deseret Morning News graphic) (Deseret Morning News graphic)
And it's not just Utah. The Mexican leader apparently won't be talking much to the media during his other stops on this visit to the United States. He's scheduled to be in both Seattle and Sacramento before returning to Mexico.
Why? "President Fox is not giving any exclusives (to anyone) in Utah, Seattle or California due to the heated ... debate over immigration," one of the organizers of the visit, Joe Reyna, said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News.
The visit comes a week after President Bush called for using the National Guard along the southern U.S. border, along with renewing his call for comprehensive reform.
The Senate could vote this week on sweeping immigration reform that would put millions of undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. Any reform would have to be hashed out with the House's measure to crack down on illegal immigration.
 (Deseret Morning News graphic) (Deseret Morning News graphic)
Salt Lake Mexican Consul Salvador Jimenez said the news conference's cancelation was simply a "natural adjustment" in scheduling. "He has to leave earlier to the state of Washington," Jimenez said. "He doesn't have time" for the news conference.
The consul has coordinated five other presidential visits in other areas he's served, saying it's common for the schedule to change. "Last-minute adjustments need to be made, and this was one of them," Jimenez said.
"Typical Mexicans," Armando Solorzano said laughing. A native of Mexico and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, he believed the lack of media access to Fox may have had more to do with message control than scheduling.
"You never know," he said. "But Mexico is very concerned about it's image."
There's illegal immigration in the United States, and Mexico is also dealing with sensitive situations with Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador, Solorzano said.
"Mexicans, as a tradition, deal with diplomats rather than the press," he said. "They want to control the kind of information they can release."
Solorzano speculated that Fox may just not want to be "exposed to the series of questions" that could compromise the image he's seeking to present.
"They never talk or announce what they're going to do; they tell the press what they have already done," Solorzano said. "It's a different culture in dealing with the press. ... It's a matter of controlling the message."
Mike Mower, the governor's spokesman, declined to speculate on why access is being limited. "It was our understanding that the press conference was canceled at the request of the Mexican government due to scheduling concerns," Mower said.
There is not much for Fox to gain by answering media questions about immigration, but there is plenty to lose, said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "There's certainly a lot more downside than upside for him talking to the press."
The visit, Jowers said, "still gives him a great platform to say the right things." What it doesn't do is "give him a chance to make a statement that would anger the Bush administration or even make it uncomfortable for Governor Huntsman."
Frank Cordova, director of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, also said he suspected the increasing volatility of the immigration debate may have played a role.
"Maybe he just doesn't want to rock the boat in terms of setting up any more anti-immigration activity, as there already is, so the Senate can go ahead and do what they want to do with a solution," Cordova said.
The news conference had originally been planned after Fox's address to a special session of the state Legislature. It was Fox's last planned event before departing for Seattle.
It's not just the media feeling left out. Renetta Coppard, co-founder of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, said Fox's visit appeared to be limited to a "close circle."
Coppard said neither she nor any members of the year-old chamber have been invited to any Fox events. She questioned whether this was because many involved, including Joe Reyna and Jorge Fierro, are associated with the competing Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"They have planned all together in favor of their own group," she said.
Carlos Linares, executive director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said his chamber will host Tuesday's lunch for 500, which will be funded by Zion's Bank.
He said if anyone was left out it's not because of exclusivity but because of limited seating.
"We did invite several key individuals within the community, diplomats and dignitaries within Utah," he said.
Linares didn't have a guest list available but said some key members of other chambers including the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and Asian Chamber of Commerce were invited.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com; dbulkeley@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company