What a difference a week makes. Those that did show up at Michael’s last week were downright subdued with whispered conversations that kept the volume unusually low. Today, it was business as usual — at least it appeared so judging by the decibel level- with the power lunch crowd. With the Garden Room occupied by a flock of fashion folks for a private lunch (more on that later), the front room was jam-packed with suits, spinmeisters and a heavier than usual contingent of NBC Universal talking heads (Tom Brokaw, Mike Barnicle, former CNBC host Donny Deutsch).
I was joined today by José Diaz-Balart, a man whose star at the network is clearly on the rise. He is the co-anchor of Telemundo’s nightly newscast, Noticiero, as well as its Sunday public affairs show Enfoque con José Díaz-Balart. José is also the Saturday anchor for NBC Nightly News and frequently fills in as host on The Today show. He landed the coveted Nightly News gig earlier this year after having anchored his own show on MSNBC for two years.
Having never met José before, I was struck by his warmth from the start. As we made our way to our table, he stopped to shake hands and talk (in Spanish) with many of Michael’s servers who recognized him, giving out plenty of pats on the back. “These guys are our viewers,” he told me as we settled in for our chat. “I might not get the best table in a restaurant, but I do get the best service!” I knew I was in for some great conversation.
José, who was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is based in Miami, has the historic distinction of being the only broadcaster to anchor the news on two major broadcast networks in two languages. I was surprised he had any voice at all given his seven-day work schedule and the virtual round the clock presence he’d maintained during — and after — the election cycle. Last Tuesday, after helming Telemundo’s morning show, he returned to the air at 6:30 p.m. to anchor the election coverage and signed off at 3 a.m.
The morning after, he was back on the air at 9 a.m. and hosted a one-hour special that evening on Telemundo that looked at the effect will Donald Trump’s presidency could have on the Hispanic community. “We visited the border and I talked with immigration attorneys. We went and talked to our viewers — the street cart guy in New York, the day laborers in Los Angeles standing outside the hardware store looking for work,” he told me between bites of Cobb salad. “It was important that we listened to viewers about their concerns of undocumented workers and tried to get them answers. We were dealing with a lot of fear. There are a lot of ‘what-ifs’ for a lot of people.”
While talking about election coverage, I mentioned that when MSNBC’s Brian Williams said, “No one counted the lawn signs” when it appeared Trump had confounded the pundits and the polls, I told José I had done just that and all I’d seen were Trump-Pence signs everywhere from Greenwich to the South Bronx. “I was in Philadelphia a few weeks before the election and I said the same thing,” he said. “In South Florida, which is traditionally Democratic, there were not nearly as many [Hillary] signs as there were for Obama eight years ago. They were everywhere.” A young lady in Las Vegas told him she was voting for Trump but wasn’t telling anyone. “She said, ‘I can’t because I’m afraid [Hillary supporters] will scratch my car.” The takeaway: “When you see no signs it’s easy to think there is no story,” said José. “Sometimes no signs is the story.”