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.)
Trump has picked fights with journalists before — before the press conference yesterday, he could be found trying to reignite his feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly — and many supporters see it as part of his appeal, a sign he's not tied down to political correctness. To them, bouncing Ramos was totally appropriate — after all, he's a "leftist media person" who's biased against Trump. Furthermore, they feel he was rude and confrontational — instead of following the rules (by waiting to be called on) he tried to shout his way to the head of the metaphorical line. In other words, he defended "illegals" by showing the same disrespect for the "rule of law" that immigration hawks feel unauthorized immigrants do.
But to Ramos's supporters, the confrontation was just another illustration that Trump is riding a wave of barely concealed racism. They feel the hostility that Trump's campaign and supporters showed to Ramos, a Latino spokesperson, is just a reflection of the hostility they feel toward Latinos and immigrants in general. In the words of MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Trump "symbolically deported" Ramos — just like he wants to do to millions of unauthorized immigrants. And Trump's "Go back to Univision!" could be seen as a coded version of "Get out of my country" — a sentiment that the Trump supporter in the hallway was happy to voice openly.
Many other reporters think Ramos brought this on himself
You might expect other reporters to jump to Ramos's aid, since they tend to side with fellow journalists over campaigns in either major political party. Many of them criticized Trump for going after Megyn Kelly; earlier this year, several reporters criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for not letting a Daily Mail reporter on its campaign bus.
But instead, many journalists have said that Ramos was out of line. The surface criticism is that Ramos refused to follow the well-established rules of press conferences by shouting out questions instead of waiting to be called on — and that he was baiting Trump by doing so.
The rules of political journalism are that when a political figure says he isn't taking questions, it's okay to shout whenever, just in case he or she (or a staffer) gets tempted into answering. But when there's an organized press conference in which the figure is taking questions — especially once one journalist has been called on — other journalists are supposed to respect order.
Some journalists agree that Ramos was out of line, but stress that it didn't justify his physical removal. It's not totally unheard of for people to shout out of turn at press conferences, and such people are generally ignored rather than bounced.
In Capitol, when a reporter shouts out of turn, sometimes the lawmaker ignores. Sometimes he/she doesn't. Never a spectacle like this.— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) August 26, 2015
For example, @SpeakerBoehner doesn't call on reporters who don't raise their hands. Wont even acknowledge them. So if they scream, he ignors— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) August 26, 2015
Both sides are right: Ramos broke the rules, but Trump's response was disproportionate to what's typically seen when someone breaks the rules. But this is also a debate that only matters to reporters inside DC, because no one outside DC political reporters cares all that much about the scrupulous rituals of DC political journalism.
Heck, even Donald Trump doesn't have that much respect for DC political institutions — he may have appeared on Meet the Press in August, but only after insulting the show and host Chuck Todd in July. He is by no means a conventional political candidate — his candidacy isn't really anything the modern US has seen. And he's posed a dilemma for journalists throughout his entire campaign, from the Huffington Post's decision to cover his campaign in its entertainment section to MSNBC's Chris Hayes saying Trump "says so many outright untrue things per minute, it's a genuine challenge of how to deal with it."
To most of Ramos's audience and followers, Trump isn't just a candidate or a curiosity. They see him as a threat to their community. That justifies breaking the rules.
But that is exactly the attitude that other journalists criticize in Ramos, and that might seem odd even to people who aren't political professionals: Ramos is attached to particular group interests and policy positions. And in the minds of his critics, that makes him an activist — not a real journalist at all.
Is Jorge Ramos a real reporter, or an activist?
Ramos was outspoken after the confrontation — and eager to tie Trump's behavior toward him to the candidate's policies. "This is personal," Ramos told the New York Times. "And that’s the big difference between Spanish-language and mainstream media, because he’s talking about our parents, our friends, our kids and our babies."
Some reporters think that's exactly the problem with Ramos — instead of being objective toward the news, he takes it personally.
This is bias: taking the news personally, explicitly advocating an agenda https://t.co/ZdJlmjqBqo— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) August 26, 2015
Note that Caputo's tweet didn't even need to say that bias is bad. It's assumed, among reporters in general — and political reporters in particular — that neutrality and objectivity are cardinal values of journalism. To have an agenda or take politics personally makes you something that isn't really a reporter, as Michael E. Miller of the Post wrote:
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.
Ramos definitely does have an agenda. It's part of his role as a representative of Latino interests to politicians, and as someone keeping his Latino viewers informed on the issues that matter to them. He downplays this sometimes, especially in English: This morning, he tweeted in English, "I'm a reporter. My job is to ask questions," but in the Spanish version added, "We're not going to sit down and we're not going to leave." But it's part of his vision of what journalism ought to be.
To traditional political reporters, that's just not acceptable — they see neutrality as the only acceptable form of "real journalism." But that's a blinkered view. After all, the journalistic ideal of objectivity itself was determined by the needs of the market (where one newspaper served an entire community and couldn't survive by only catering to people with certain views). It evolved over a different form in Europe. And really, in genres that aren't political journalism, bias toward the concerns of the audience is totally acceptable: In health journalism, for example, it's totally accepted that reporters will put their audiences' health first.
That's what Ramos, and many other Spanish-language journalists, see as their mission. They are the representatives of the Latino community dealing with a political infrastructure that doesn't always respond to or respect them.
VIDEO: Donald Trump on immigration
CORRECTION: This piece originally said the confrontation happened Wednesday. It didn't. It happened Tuesday. The author (who is taking a four-day week) apologizes for her error.