After Jorge Ramos, Univision/Fusion anchor and one of the best journalists on television, was attacked by Donald Trump for doing his job, the Washington Post thought it prudent to run a story about how Ramos is becoming an “activist” because he cares about immigration reform, like so many other immigrants.
Don’t get it twisted: this line of argument is as much of a racist dog whistle as Donald Trump telling Ramos to “Go back to Univision [/México].”
In Michael E. Miller’s “Jorge Ramos is a Conflict Junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump,” Miller essentially accuses Ramos of practicing a conflict of interest for telling his story as a Mexican American former immigrant.
Ramos isn’t just another political reporter, however. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he has become an increasingly vocal supporter of immigration reform. It’s a role that has helped him cross over into English-language news, but also blurred the line between journalist and activist.
And both [Trump and Ramos] view argument as a form of public combat. Trump is crass and scattershot, like a scathing verbal shotgun: capable of hitting anyone and everyone in an expletive-laden fury. By contrast, Ramos is tightly focused — usually on immigration — but no less dangerous, like a sniper rifle.
“My only weapon is the question,” the anchor told the Los Angeles Times in 2013.
Never mind that almost literally everyone in America is a “vocal supporter of immigration reform” no matter their political affiliation—it’s just the mode of reform about which people tend to disagree—Michael E. Miller seems to be the one with a conflict, as this piece cannot really decide if it values journalism above all others, or if it believes that journalism in the form of calmly asking a presidential candidate questions about his platform is, in fact, activist “combat.”
After positing this thesis, Michael E. Miller then spends a good chunk of his piece talking about the early life of Ramos, one of the most respected Mexican Americans in the USA, and how he literally left his home country in order to practice journalism more ethically, migrating to LA “after his bosses [at a Mexican TV station] told him to water down a segment critical of the government.”
Michael E. Miller then praises Ramos’s doggedness over the past 30 years, but then allows a spokesperson from the conservative Media Research Center and the communications director for the Republican party to cast aspersions on Ramos’s journalism, viewpoints which ultimately form the base of Michael E. Miller’s argument. The writer repeatedly ascribes negative, biting adjectives to Ramos, and writes:
Ramos has also proved a pain in the side of Democrats, particularly the president. When Obama didn’t keep his 2008 campaign promise to pass immigration reform, Ramos grilled him about it on live television four years later.
“A promise is a promise,” Ramos told an uncomfortable looking Obama. “And with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”
In an interview with the New York Times in January, however, Ramos said his focus had shifted.
“Now is the turn of Republicans,” he said.
With the rise of The Donald, Ramos is now living up to his threat.
The basic premise which Michael E. Miller purports to be defending, and the perspective from which he presumably believes he is writing, is that of “journalistic objectivity,” which is essentially “gotta hear both sides.” It’s the concept that a reporter must only report the facts, and never approach a subject from a place of personal emotion or opinion.
Journalistic objectivity, which is the philosophy largely taught at most schools and applied in newsrooms, has gone a long way to eliminating yellow journalism and (ideally!) eradicating conflicts of interest. But also: it is, generally, a myth, as all of us—even journalists!—approach life with internal biases. In 2003, the Columbia Journalism Review, considered the magna carta of capital-J journalism, ran a piece entitled “Re-thinking Objectivity” by deputy editor Brent Cunningham. Using the industry-wide reportage of GW Bush doublespeak as a jumping off point, he wrote:
Yet these three examples — which happen to involve the current White House, although every White House spins stories — provide a window into a particular failure of the press: allowing the principle of objectivity to make us passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it. We all learned about objectivity in school or at our first job. Along with its twin sentries “fairness” and “balance,” it defined journalistic standards.
Or did it? Ask ten journalists what objectivity means and you’ll get ten different answers. Some, like The Washington Post’s editor, Leonard Downie, define it so strictly that they refuse to vote lest they be forced to take sides. My favorite definition was from Michael Bugeja, who teaches journalism at Iowa State: “Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were.” In 1996 the Society of Professional Journalists acknowledged this dilemma and dropped “objectivity” from its ethics code. It also changed “the truth” to simply “truth.”
In essence, being an “aggressive analyzer and explainer” of news is why Jorge Ramos is one of our most valuable anchors; it’s what he was doing in that press conference with Donald Trump, and what he does every day with politicians. In telling Trump, “Here’s the problem with your immigration plan. It’s full of empty promises,” Ramos was being as respectful a reporter as could be; the fact that he was able to address Trump’s unfathomably absurd concept of reform (mass deportation) as an immigration “plan” as though it were as serious as any proves as much.
Lately, while trying to comprehend the intricacies (and existences) of the conservative Republican Latino candidates, I’ve been re-watching Ramos’s past interviews with them in their capacities as state servants. This 2013 segment with Ted Cruz has been particularly fascinating; the hard-hitting way Ramos interviews him shows how seriously he takes his obligations to journalism, which are at their essence obligations to the public, something Michael E. Miller seems to consider a “conflict.” (It’s also a chilling view into Cruz’s psyche, as he repeatedly skirts Ramos’s question about Cruz’s motivations and whether he wants to run for president.)
Michael E. Miller notes that Ramos has also been tough on Barack Obama. Here he is doing so, being as aggressive with the President as he was with Cruz. No partisanship here.
Ramos is focused on asking the candidates about immigration because it is one of the most important issues facing our country today, and as a Mexican American who has been in the same position, he not only has a particular understanding of the issue, he is giving a voice to Americans who don’t always have one. For Miller to imply that he is an “activist” simply because he, too, was an immigrant, is uncomfortably close to racial profiling. Also: Jorge Ramos has been doing this for 30 damn years. If he’s an advocate for anyone, it’s the millions of Americans who trust his reporting to be both ethical and fearless, and who look to him for truth.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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