There Are Times When Journalists Must Take A Stand, Jorge Ramos Says
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's meet a journalist who sometimes makes himself part of the story. He's Jorge Ramos. He's an anchor for the Spanish-language network Univision. At a press conference last year, Ramos stood to challenge Donald Trump on his plan to deport millions of immigrants who were here illegally. Trump first refused to call on Ramos and then had security guards remove him.
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DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Sit down. You weren't called. Sit down. Sit down.
JORGE RAMOS: I have the right to ask a question.
TRUMP: Go back to Univision.
RAMOS: It's the first time in 30 years as a journalist in the United States in which I'd been ejected from a press conference for asking a question. The only other time in which I'd been prevented from asking a question was with Fidel Castro.
INSKEEP: Jorge Ramos was eventually allowed back in at the urging of other reporters. He asked several questions although Trump gave no ground. Early this year Ramos made headlines again. He was the one who interviewed former Mexican President Vicente Fox about Trump's claim that he will make Mexico pay for a great wall on the border. Fox replied...
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VICENTE FOX: I'm not going to pay for that [expletive] wall. He should pay for it. He's got the money.
INSKEEP: Tonight Jorge Ramos is in the spotlight once again. He will moderate a debate among Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton - a race that once again is intensely interesting. Ramos has interviewed candidates, presidents and other world leaders for decades now. He's about to publish a book about his experience and his view of journalism. It is called "Take A Stand."
Do you think of yourself as an advocacy journalist? Is that the right phrase for what you do?
RAMOS: I have been asking if I'm an activist or a journalist. And my answer is very simple. I'm just a journalist who asks questions. The difference is that I'm completely convinced that there are few moments, important moments, in which you have to take a stand as a journalist. When it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships and human rights, you have to take a stand as a reporter because I think our responsibility as journalist is to confront those who are abusing power. You know, I've been reading a lot about neutrality. Elie Wiesel, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he says, we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. In other words, as journalist, I'm completely convinced we have to take a stand sometimes.
INSKEEP: You work through in this book an account of a time that you believed that President Obama was wrong and in fact that you feel he broke a promise that he made in an interview with you regarding immigration reform. What did he say?
RAMOS: He was a candidate 2008. And he said, you know, I cannot promise that I'll propose immigration reform during the first 100 days, but I can do that within one year. And everybody in the Hispanic community call that la promesa de Obama, Obama's promise. And he just didn't keep his word.
INSKEEP: Well, this is an interesting part of this story, though. You assert that that would have made a difference, that had he gone ahead and proposed immigration reform early in his first term that it would have passed. Do you really believe that?
RAMOS: Not only do I believe that, it was so easy to understand. The Senate was controlled by the Democrats. The House was controlled by the Democrats. And they had all the votes. And they waited and waited and waited. If he really didn't mean that he was going to propose immigration reform during his first year in office then he shouldn't have promised that.
INSKEEP: How do you think it has affected your outlook on life that you are one of this very small group of people who can call up almost anybody and talk with them?
RAMOS: You know, I became a journalist - one of the reasons why I became a journalist was because I wanted to be able to talk to the people who are changing the world. And I do learn from powerful people. On the other hand, Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist who died recently...
RAMOS: He used to say that interviews were a war and that sometimes the interview would win and sometimes the interviewer would win.
INSKEEP: Can you think of an interview where you feel like the interviewee won?
RAMOS: Oh, many times, (laughter) many times. I don't think I win most interviews. For instance, with Fidel Castro, I only spoke with him one minute and three seconds. But I think he won because I couldn't get anything from him. With the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, it happened exactly the same thing. And as a Mexican, for me it is incredibly frustrating to talk to the president of Mexico - former presidents of Mexico - because I can't get to them. It is very difficult. On the other hand - I know you'll find this surprising - but it is so refreshing to talk to American presidents because they are much more open than Latin American presidents.
INSKEEP: How many American presidents have you spoken with?
RAMOS: Every U.S. president since George Bush Sr. I have been able to...
INSKEEP: And you found them all relatively open to your questions?
RAMOS: Not relatively open - much more open than to talk to Latin American dictators or Latin American presidents. When you talk to a Latin American president, they make you feel so tiny right from the beginning, right from the moment when they shake your hands. Once I - I'm not going to say exactly in which country - but I asked to go to the bathroom right before the interview and a general followed me all the way to the bathroom...
RAMOS: ...And waited outside. But they make you feel you really have no power. And when you have 80 journalists who have been killed in Mexico, for instance, in the last decade, yeah, you realize how lucky we are here in the United States in which you can go to the White House, talk to the president and go back to your house. And then you can take a bike ride and go to the supermarket and no one is going to kill you. No one is going to do anything against you. That's a huge difference.
INSKEEP: So as we're talking, you are preparing for a debate between two would-be presidents - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
INSKEEP: Don't give away your specific questions here. I'm not asking that. But what is the essence of what you want to know from each of those two?
RAMOS: You want to know who they really are and what they believe in. So what I'm going to try to do tonight is to put aside some of the statements that they've said and try to get to know the real candidate, the real person, the person who is behind the candidate, the person who might become the president of the United States. And it's not easy.
INSKEEP: Meaning you might not get them to agree with you but you want to push them to the point were they have to level with you about something?
RAMOS: Exactly, and then if we talk tomorrow and I was not able to put them on the defensive then I didn't do my job.
INSKEEP: Jorge Ramos is the author of "Take A Stand" and also of course a longtime anchor for Univision. Thank you very much.
RAMOS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Jorge Ramos is also moderating tonight's Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.