On Tuesday, Donald Trump had his security detail physically eject Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference for shouting questions at Trump without being called on.
Trump’s people eventually let Ramos back into the press conference, and the two engaged in a long back-and-forth over Trump’s immigration proposals and his appeal to Hispanics. But the initial confrontation, and the image of Trump shouting “Go back to Univision!” as a member of his staff hustled a prominent Latino journalist out of the room, struck a nerve with Trump critics.
Instead of rallying around a fellow member of the press, however, many journalists have sided if not with Trump, then certainly against Ramos. At best, they say, Ramos was being inappropriate and disrespectful. At worst, he’s a “conflict junkie” (as the Washington Post’s Michael E. Miller wrote) who was “pretending to be bullied” by Trump (as Mika Brzezinski said on MSNBC).
Ramos is arguably the most influential journalist in the Spanish-language press, if not the most influential Latino journalist period. So anything he does is going to matter to a certain segment of Latinos, and, increasingly, he’s getting the attention of the mainstream media ecosystem as well. But a lot of traditional political journalists beginning to pay attention to Jorge Ramos are surprised or put off by what they find. His style — and his conception (shared with a lot of other Spanish-language journalists and media outlets) of what journalism ought to be — differs from the traditional values of political journalism. This isn’t the first time Ramos has confronted a politician, and it won’t be the last, but the confrontation with Trump is bringing the culture clash between his vision of journalism and traditional journalistic “objectivity” to the surface.
Jorge Ramos is probably the most influential Latino journalist in America
Jorge Ramos is the co-anchor of Univision’s nightly newscast, Noticiero Univision, and the host of its Sunday political talk show, Al Punto — the first Spanish-language show in the genre of Meet the Press and This Week.
Both of Ramos’s Univision shows pull in fewer viewers than their major-network counterparts (and they shrank from 2013 to 2014), but they’re often competitive among what’s called “the demo”: adults 25 to 54, who are the key target for advertisers. As of November 2014, Noticiero Univision was beating CBS’s Evening News regularly among viewers 25 to 54.
Those numbers are enough to get media pundits to sit up and take notice — not to mention politicians, who are eager to reach out to the fast-growing Latino vote. If you’re a politician looking to do an interview with a Spanish-language media outlet (even if you don’t speak Spanish), Ramos (and his co-anchor María Elena Salinas) are probably very high on your list.
But Ramos’s influence goes way beyond his active viewership, because he’s the most recognizable journalist in the Spanish-language press — and often a de facto spokesperson for Latinos. Republican strategist Matthew Dowd compares him to Walter Cronkite. In 2010, when the Pew Research Center asked Latinos to identify a “national Latino leader,” Ramos was the only journalist whose name came up (though he was named by only 2 percent of respondents, and most Latinos didn’t name anyone).
Ramos has certainly cultivated this image — he’s a self-promoter, to be sure. But the “voice of the Latino community” is also an attitude that informs his approach to journalism — and the approach that his network, and many other Latino-centered outlets, also take.
It helps to think of the Ramos approach as service journalism, but for politics. In his eyes (and the eyes of like-minded Latino journalists) the point of their work is to keep Latino voters informed about the issues that matter most to them, and to make sure they know who’s looking out for their interests and who isn’t.
Ramos has been going after Donald Trump for some time
Ramos is closely identified not just with Latinos in general, but with the issue of immigration in particular. He portrays it as an issue that’s deeply personal to him because it’s deeply personal to his viewers. (He’s right: polls do show that Latino voters often know unauthorized immigrants, and that they see some anti-immigrant rhetoric as anti-Latino.)
Ramos has made a point of challenging politicians on immigration both in individual interviews and in his punditry. For the first several years of the Obama administration, a lot of his fire was trained on the president, for breaking his campaign promise to pass immigration reform (a promise Obama made most prominently on Ramos’s show) and deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants a year. But at present, he’s reserving his deepest scorn for Republicans. He generated some buzz last summer by calling out John Boehner during a press conference for his lack of initiative in passing immigration reform.
And this summer, he is extremely concerned about Donald Trump. “Right now Donald Trump is, no question, the loudest voice of intolerance, hatred, and division in the United States,” Ramos said on his English-language show America With Jorge Ramos on Fusion. He conveys a feeling that isn’t uncommon among politically aware Latinos right now: that Trump’s disrespect for immigrants — from calling them rapists and murderers to advocating for the deportation of their families — is an existential threat to Latinos in a way politics usually isn’t. Ramos has called Trump’s rhetoric “dangerous,” and he’s not speaking metaphorically.
At the same time, he’s repeatedly asked Trump for an interview. For most journalists, this would be strange — if Trump is stirring up hate, why would you give him a platform? — but for Ramos, it makes sense: An interview would give him the chance to push back against Trump directly.
But Trump and his campaign have shown no interest in engaging. Trump is embroiled in a$500 million lawsuit against Univision, for dropping coverage of his Miss Universe pageant after the “rapists” comments, and he’s used Ramos as an opportunity to mock the network. In June, when he got a letter from Ramos asking him for an interview, he posted it on Instagram — including Ramos’s cellphone number.
Tuesday’s showdown confirmed each side’s opinions of the other
On Tuesday, Ramos took the Trump press conference as an opportunity to confront the candidate anyway. Without being called on — which is the typical etiquette for in-person press briefings — he started shouting questions at Trump. “Sit down, you weren’t called,” Trump replied. When Ramos didn’t stop, a Trump staffer physically ejected him, as Trump said, “Go back to Univision!”
In the hallway outside the press conference, in a video captured by Univision, a Trump supporter greeted Ramos, who’s a US citizen, with, “Get out of my country. Get out, it’s not about you. You were very rude.” (A Trump staffer ultimately allowed Ramos to reenter the press conference to ask his question, provided he did so calmly.)