Univisión Denies Claim White House Pushed for Host Firing over Ape Comment

Rodner Figueroa
The Associated Press

Rodner Figueroa, a Venezuelan fashion correspondent fired this week from Univisión over remarks comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to a character on Planet of the Apes, claims that he was verbally informed that First Lady Obama’s office complained directly to Univisión about the broadcast, which resulted in his firing. Univisión has denied any White House involvement in the firing.

In a long, Spanish-language letter addressed to the First Lady, Figueroa denied having ever compared Michelle Obama to an ape, arguing instead that he was referring to a male make-up artist who had attempted to disguise himself as Michelle Obama. In that letter, Figueroa also claims he was notified that he was to be immediately fired after the First Lady’s office called Univisión executives to lodge a complaint:

I was verbally notified that due to a complaint from your office, I was dismissed [from my job], and due to a lack of information on behalf of Univisión executives, I was condemned on social media, trying to destroy my career in an unjust way, without [Univisión] having even notified me officially in writing and without an investigation that could have allowed a clarification of the situation.

People en Español, which ran the originally letter in full (read in English here), reports that Univisión executives deny that the White House or the First Lady’s office had any role in Figueroa’s firing. “Neither the White House nor Michelle Obama’s press office called Univisión to complain regarding Rodner Figueroa’s comments over the First Lady that prompted the host’s firing, a high-ranking executive at the network told People en Español,” the magazine notes. It provides no other information regarding the source within Univisión or any exact quotes from the network.

La Opinión, a Mexican publication, does share a quote it claims to be from a Univisión executive, who also says the White House had no influence in the firing: “The information was managed confidentially and in no moment did we receive a call from the White House.” The executive added nonetheless that the White House “was notified this morning” of the firing.

Figueroa, who notes in his apology letter that his father is black and he has been a longtime progressive and Obama supporter, has received support from El Gordo y la Flaca hosts Raúl de Molina and Lili Estefan. “Rodner definitely made a mistake, but to smear him as a racist is ridiculous,” Estefan told People en Español. “Rodner is someone who makes fun of himself. For those who don’t know, his father is black. He gets to the show and goes ‘Oh my God! My hair is so nappy today!’ or ‘I just straightened out my naps.'” De Molina told People Figueroa was “indispensable to El Gordo y La Flaca.”

On a broadcast of El Gordo y La Flaca, a daytime celebrity gossip show, this week, Figueroa said, “you know, Michelle Obama looks like a cast member from Planet of the Apes,” to which host De Molina replied, “What are you talking about?”