Calls for 'SNL' to dump Donald Trump grow louder

Donald Trump is scheduled to host "Saturday Night Live" on Nov. 7, but if a growing chorus of critics have their way, he won't be. 

Latino advocacy groups, politicians and some media observers are calling for NBC to disinvite the tycoon turned reality TV star turned Republican presidential front-runner from the gig, citing inflammatory remarks Trump made about Mexican immigrants in the speech announcing his White House run in June.

The controversy ignited after Trump's appearance was announced Oct. 13. Days later, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 civil rights and policy organizations, fired off a letter to "SNL" executive producer Lorne Michaels and NBCUniversal Chief Executive Stephen Burke, urging them to rescind the invitation. 

"We are appalled that you would enable Trump's hateful speech for nothing [more] than a ratings ploy," read the letter, which argued that the appearance would "validate" Trump's stated opinion of immigrants. 

In recent days, the calls for "SNL" to dump Trump have grown louder still.

On Tuesday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Burke and Brian Roberts, chief executive of NBCUniversal parent company Comcast, asking them to have Trump disinvited.

Having the candidate host "SNL" implied "a level of endorsement that says to America that every hateful and racist thing Donald Trump has said is acceptable and no big deal," the lawmaker wrote, likening the appearance to "90 minutes of free airtime" for Trump's campaign. 

Gutierrez also took his campaign to the house floor Wednesday. "If Donald Trump had said gays and lesbians were murdering and raping Americans, would he get to host the show?" he asked

NPR television critic Eric Deggans made a similar argument in a column published Sunday, suggesting that the Trump booking highlights the continued diversity problem at "SNL," which currently has no Latino cast members (and has had just two in its 40-year history). 

"It's hard to imagine Michaels forcing star Kate McKinnon, who is gay, to perform alongside a guest host with a history of making bigoted statements about gay people," Deggans wrote, "or pushing black cast members like Kenan Thompson to yuk it up alongside a celebrity guest who had expressed bigotry about African-Americans."

NBC declined to comment on the matter Monday.

Deggans also argued that NBC seemed to be "mending fences" with Trump, who was fired as host of "The Celebrity Apprentice" days after describing Mexican immigrants as "rapists" who were bringing drugs and crime across the border. At the time, NBC cited Trump's "recent derogatory statements" for the action, and also ended its involvement with his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.

But as Trump's insurgent campaign gained momentum over the summer, the real estate tycoon has blossomed into a media sensation and ratings bonanza. "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" got its best Friday-night ratings in 18 months with Trump's Sept. 11 visit. A few weeks later, he helped boost CBS' "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" to its biggest audience since its Sept. 8 premiere.

In addition to his "Tonight" visit, Trump has called into "Morning Joe" on cable sister network MSNBC and on Monday sat for a "town hall" moderated by Matt Lauer on "Today." 

NBC's public rhetoric on Trump also seems to have softened in August, Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said Trump would "absolutely not" be back as host of "Celebrity Apprentice," but otherwise had complimentary words for the billionaire, whom he called "a lovely guy" and "very much a collaborator." 

While Trump's other NBC appearances have drawn little controversy, his scheduled visit to "Saturday Night Live" is generating much more flak -- whether it's because the show is an effective promotional platform for a candidate, or because the booking is seen as a cynical ratings ploy by "SNL," or both.

Another factor may be be that it is exceptionally rare for an active presidential candidate to host the show. Cameos by presidential and vice presidential candidates have long been woven into the fabric of "SNL" -- Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped by earlier this month -- and many politicians including Sen. John McCain and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani have hosted the show.

But the last time a candidate hosted while in the middle of an active campaign was in December 2003, when Democratic long-shot Al Sharpton played the role of emcee. Due to concerns about the Federal Communication Commission's "equal time" rule, several affiliates declined to carry the original broadcast of the episode. 

In 1996, Steve Forbes hosted the show a few weeks after dropping out of the Republican presidential primary. Mitt Romney, the GOP's White House contender in 2012, was reportedly asked to host, but declined. 

Much attention has been paid to "SNL's" lack of black women in the cast (it now has two, Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones) but the show has an even worse track record when it comes to other demographic groups. In its four decades on the air, "Saturday Night Live" has had just two Latino cast members, both of them men: Horatio Sanz, who is of Chilean descent, and Fred Armisen, whose mother came from Venezuela. 

The show has never had a cast member who identifies as Asian American, though Armisen and Rob Schneider have some Asian heritage.

To put these numbers in perspective, the show has had approximately 140 cast members over the course of its run, meaning less than 2% of those performers had any Latino heritage. In contrast, Latinos currently make up about 17% of the U.S. population.

Latino groups had been pushing "SNL" to address the imbalance long before the Trump dust-up.

"Perpetuating this marginalization and isolation is frankly segregation in the digital age," National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Chairman Felix Sanchez said in a 2013 letter to Michaels.

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter

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