Committing Journalism

The seventies were an odd time – CNN just presented a series on those years – something to fill the summer months – but of course much was left out. They didn’t mention the cultural shift that happened in 1976 with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men – suddenly reporters were heroes, saving the country from disaster, essentially removing an unbalanced paranoid leader. Jason Robards played Ben Bradlee, their tough-as-nails heroic editor – and this was a reversal from what all baby boomers grew up with – The Adventures of Superman – where Noel Neill played Lois Lane, a wide-eyed naïve reporter of sorts. From 1952 through 1958, George Reeves as Superman, when he wasn’t Clark Kent, had to save her sorry ass when she got in over her head – week after week after week. John Hamilton played Perry White, the perpetually clueless editor of the Daily Planet. He never knew what was going on. He was no Ben Bradlee. He was comic relief – but things changed in the seventies.

Of course there was a period of transition when reporters were trying to figure out how far they could push it. Could they challenge power? In a press conference on October 26, 1973, Richard Nixon did slap down Robert C. Pierpoint of CBS News:

Q. Mr. President, you have lambasted the television networks pretty well. Could I ask you, at the risk of reopening an obvious wound, you say after you have put on a lot of heat that you don’t blame anyone. I find that a little puzzling. What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?

THE PRESIDENT: Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. [Laughter]

Q. I’m afraid, sir, that I have that impression. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT: You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.

Everyone in the room gasped, but Nixon was fed up with these fools pestering him about Watergate. This was a message to his dwindling base, and to the nation. Reporters with all their questions deserve no respect at all. They’re lucky he even talks to them. Perhaps he considered each one as a hapless Lois Lane.

That was a mistake. He demanded respect. He got more investigative journalism. He was gone soon enough. Times had changed. Sneer at the press, now, and bad things happen.

Donald Trump doesn’t agree:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump booted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday, leading to the veteran journalist’s temporary ouster from the event.

On Wednesday morning, Trump said on TODAY that Ramos was “totally, absolutely out of line.”

The confrontation began when Ramos tried to ask a question out of turn while another reporter spoke.

“Sit down, you weren’t called,” Trump snapped at Ramos. “Go back to Univision.”

The real estate mogul continued to shut down the Mexican-American journalist, leading Ramos to be escorted out of the room by security. But Ramos was eventually allowed back in to ask two questions.

“He was totally out of line last night,” Trump told Today’s Matt Lauer.

It was October 26, 1973, all over again:

Lauer then asked Trump why he lets people get under his skin, and suggested that a renewed feud with another journalist – Fox News host Megyn Kelly – has put him in an unfavorable light.

“I’m not a bully,” he said about public perceptions. “In fact, I think it’s just the opposite way.”

He just thinks that Megyn Kelly owes him an apology, not the other way around. He thinks like Richard Nixon.

Jack Shafer sees that too:

The high solemnity of political news conferences confers upon a politician priest-like or kinglike status: He stands a foot or two higher than the mortals questioning him, looking down. He makes them wait for their turn to be called on. He begins and ends the questioning by decree. Far from opposing these imperious ways, many reporters, especially those who consider themselves members of the journalistic guild, applaud the arrangement. Not to get all Chomskian on you, but by virtue of their obedience, the guildsmen can count on the king’s attention and convert that attention into bylines.

That’s how it used to work, but times change:

At the beginning of his presidency, Ronald Reagan pacified the howlers in attendance at news conferences. No more jumping up and down and shouting, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” Reagan’s people decreed. By 1987, Reagan had gone too far in controlling the news, holding only two news conferences in the first 10 months of the year. Journalists like Sam Donaldson of ABC News and Chris Wallace of NBC News were right to start screaming their questions any time he appeared in public. The “competition” between Donaldson and Wallace grew so heated, the New York Times reported, that the two “engaged in a shoving match over positions in the briefing room to broadcast their reports.” At least Ramos didn’t push anybody.

But this isn’t 1973:

A modern article of journalistic faith holds that journalists should never become the story – and by putting himself out there to unsettle the Trump show, Ramos did just that. Again, not every news conference can be improved by a reporter’s showboating. But in the asymmetrical dynamic of a news conference, in which the interviewee holds all the power, an occasional breach of etiquette such as the one Ramos engaged in does not spell the end of civil culture. Ramos didn’t splash Trump with pig’s blood or anything, he merely violated convention in an attempt to break news on his own terms by speaking out of turn.

Trump needs to understand this was no big deal and accept the inevitable:

One strike against Ramos, offered by the journalistic orthodoxy, is that he’s not an “objective” journalist but an advocacy journalist, therefore he and his work can’t be trusted. Yet advocacy journalism has enjoyed a rich and glowing history in the United States: Such partisans as Tom Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Elijah Lovejoy, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, John Swinton and Jacob Riis broke vital news in decades past. Then came the muckrakers and their contemporary inheritors – Jessica Mitford, Michael Harrington, Ralph Nader, Jack Anderson, the gangs at Ramparts and Mother Jones magazines, and such current partisans as Glenn Greenwald, David Corn and others who have made important news without sacrificing their personal views.

By virtue of Trump’s immigration views and the coarse way he expresses them, his collision with Spanish-language media was inevitable. Add to that the fact that Trump has already filed suit against Univision for dropping his Miss Universe pageant, and his tirade against the network’s most high-profile journalist was doubly inevitable. Disrespected by Ramos, the always-ready-to-insult mogul did what he always does when he feels abused – he took out the verbal strap and started whipping.

That’s what Nixon did, but Shafer sees something else going on here:

The Trump-Ramos incident will likely redound to the mutual benefit of both. Trump wisely allowed Ramos back in the room and took his questions, positioning himself as the disciplinarian who can humanize himself when necessary by adding a sprinkle of mensch, as they volleyed back and forth. Ramos comes out of the rumble similarly fortified. He went after the king, he was banished by the king, he returned to the king’s court to battle the king once again.

In the name of news, this calls for a repeat match. I can’t wait for Ramos’ extended interview with Trump on Univision.

Shafer may be kidding. That interview is unlikely now, and Glenn Greenwald points out there are still Lois Lane reporters out there:

Politico’s political reporter Marc Caputo unleashed a Twitter rant this morning against Ramos. “This is bias: taking the news personally, explicitly advocating an agenda,” he began. Then: “Trump can and should be pressed on this. Reporters can do this without being activists” and “some reporters still try to approach their stories fairly & decently. & doing so does not prevent good reporting.” Not only did Ramos not do journalism, Caputo argued, but he actually ruins journalism: “My issue is his reporting is imbued with take-it-personally bias… we fend off phony bias allegations & Ramos only helps to wrongly justify them… One can ask and report without the bias. I’ve done it for years & will continue 2 do so.”

A Washington Post article about the incident actually equated the two figures, beginning with the headline: “Jorge Ramos is a conflict junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump.” The article twice suggested that Ramos’ behavior was something other than journalism, claiming that his advocacy of immigration reform “blurred the line between journalist and activist” and that “by owning the issue of immigration, Ramos has also blurred the line between journalist and activist.” That Ramos was acting more as an “activist” than a “journalist” was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.

Greenwald calls bullshit on that:

Here we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

What is more noble for a journalist to do: confront a dangerous, powerful billionaire-demagogue spouting hatemongering nonsense about mass deportation, or sit by quietly and pretend to have no opinions on any of it and that “both sides” are equally deserving of respect and have equal claims to validity? As Ramos put it simply, in what should not even need to be said: “I’m a reporter. My job is to ask questions. What’s ‘totally out of line’ is to eject a reporter from a press conference for asking questions.”

But something has changed since the seventies:

The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism. That’s not hard to understand: One of the supreme values of large corporations is fear of offending anyone, particularly those in power, since that’s bad for business. The way that conflict-avoiding value is infused into the media outlets that these corporations own is to inculcate their journalists that their primary duty is to avoid offending anyone, especially those who wield power, which above all means never taking a clear position about anything, instead just serving as a mindless, uncritical vessel for “both sides,” what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has dubbed “the view from nowhere.” Whatever else that is, it is most certainly not a universal or long-standing principle of how journalism should be conducted. …

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.”

This means Greenwald has his new hero:

What Ramos did here was pure journalism in its classic and most noble expression: He aggressively confronted a politician wielding a significant amount of power over some pretty horrible things that the politician is doing and saying.

Perhaps so, but not everyone agrees:

Even after Univision host Jorge Ramos was kicked out of a Donald Trump press conference for challenging the GOP 2016 frontrunner, the angry language didn’t stop once Ramos had been escorted to the hallway.

“Get out of my country. Get out,” a Trump supporter told Ramos after he had been escorted from the press conference in a video posted by Fusion. In the video, Ramos calmly responds to the supporter that he is, in fact, a U.S. citizen.

“Well, whatever … it’s not about you,” the supporter said, aggressively gesturing at the Univision host.

What is it about then? Josh Marshall reposts an email he received from a reader:

If you go to Univision.com right now, the video is on the front page top. Not top of the news section; top center of the whole website (at least on a phone). There is a headline like “Trump Kicks Jorge Ramos out of Press Conference” and then the money quote: “Go Back to Univision”.

The video has no set up or commentary from any Univision reporter or news anchor. None is required. This is one powerfully self-explanatory clip. It is hard to imagine the message being any clearer to the millions of Univision viewers, spat straight from the sneering, hateful mouth of a big, blonde-haired and red-faced White Man…

You are not welcome in Trump’s America. Go the fuck back where you came from. Let’s be serious, I don’t care if you are legal or illegal. Hell, I don’t care if you are one of the most prominent, respected and powerful members of the Mexican-American community. You are still just a Mexican, so shut up and get the fuck out. What did you say, boy? You think you have the right to be heard? You think you have the right to speak to me without being spoken to? Well, guess what, you have no rights. You don’t even have the right to be here. Guards!! Seize, silence and deport this Mexican imposter immediately!

And now it gets nasty:

I have to believe the Ramos exchange is going to open the gates for more media coverage of denunciations and counter punches from those, like Ramos, who the mainstream media deem coverage-worthy spokespersons for the communities Trump is attacking and vilifying. As we know, if this happens Trump’s instinctual response will be to double-down, escalate and attack (although, let’s face it, he blinked letting Ramos back in the room and engaging him).

If this “conversation” (aka shouting match) does play out on Fox and CNN and Sunday shows it will doubtless be ugly, at least based on what comes out of Trump’s mouth, but it could be interesting and perhaps not all bad if dissenting voices and a few facts actually start getting some air time.

There is that. Facts are nice, but the conversation won’t be:

If the GOP thought they had lost control of the process and the narrative up to now in the Trumpcycle, I have a feeling it will pale in comparison to Stage Two, when it’s “Trump v. Ramos, LIVE on FOX!” Up to now, Trump had been masterfully controlling the narrative and the media. Thanks to Mr. Ramos, I think in this next stage he is going to lose control, too, and we are heading into uncharted waters.

Trump won’t know what hit him, at least that’s the thrust of the Los Angeles Times profile of Ramos:

The 57-year-old has anchored “Noticiero Univision,” Spanish-language TV’s No. 1 ranked newscast, for nearly three decades and is considered a trusted source of news. A 2010 study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that among Latinos, Ramos was the second-most recognized Latino leader behind Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and other polls have shown he is one of the most trusted public figures among Latinos.

“Spanish-language news has almost the same pull as the priest in the pulpit,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “And Jorge Ramos is the pope, he’s the big kahuna.”

Ramos has a lot of followers: According to Nielsen ratings, more than 2 million viewers tune in to “Noticiero Univision” nightly. For perspective, in 2013, that was three times the audience of CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

And according to recently published research, the GOP’s presidential nominee would need to win nearly half of the Latino vote to make it to the White House. (President Obama won reelection with 71% of the Latino vote).

During the last presidential election cycle, Washington Monthly called Ramos the broadcaster who would most determine the outcome of the 2012 election.

Despite that, Trump at one point on Tuesday night said he “didn’t know much about him.”

What you don’t know can hurt you:

Earlier this year, Ramos defended his focus on immigration in an open letter to Republicans.

“The Republican Party has been complaining lately about how some Latino journalists, including me, only ask them about immigration,” he wrote. “That is correct, but what Republicans don’t understand is that for us, the immigration issue is the most pressing symbolically and emotionally, and the stance a politician takes on this defines whether he is with us or against us.”

Ramos has been unapologetic about his and the network’s stance.

“Our position is clearly pro-Latino or pro-immigrant,” he said in 2013. “We are simply being the voice of those who don’t have a voice.”

Latinos, in turn, see Ramos as a leader. According to the Pew Hispanic Center survey, 38% of Latinos surveyed considered Ramos a major Latino leader.

And this is personal:

A native of Mexico City, Ramos moved to Los Angeles as a student in 1983 and took UCLA Extension classes in journalism. He landed an on-air job at KMEX-TV, Los Angeles’ Spanish-language station. Three years later, he was named an anchor for Univision, becoming one of the youngest national news anchors in television.

Ramos, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen seven years ago, has consistently used his position to unabashedly push for immigration reform.

“I am emotionally linked to this issue,” Ramos told The Times in 2013. “Because once you are an immigrant, you never forget that you are one.”

And Jorge Ramos is not Lois Lane:

At a University of Texas at Austin forum this year, Univision News President Isaac Lee summed up the network’s perspective: “Univision’s audience knows that Jorge is representing them,” Lee said. “He is not asking the questions to be celebrated as a fair and balanced journalist.… He’s going to ask the person whatever is necessary to push the agenda for a more fair society, for a more inclusive society and for the Hispanic community to be better.”

Univision brass also stood up for Ramos on Wednesday evening, calling Trump’s behavior “beyond contempt.” “Mr. Trump demonstrated complete disregard for him and for the countless Hispanics whom Jorge seeks to represent,” Univision Communications Chief Executive Randy Falco said in a statement.

And Ramos doesn’t fold:

Ramos quit his first reporting job at a Mexico City TV station after his bosses demanded he soften a piece critical of the Mexican government and he refused.

Ramos has said he approaches interviews with world leaders in the context of warfare. “My only weapon is the question,” he told The Times in 2013.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ramos moderated a series of Univision candidate forums, and pressed Mitt Romney and President Obama hard on immigration issues. After confronting Romney about his proposed “self-deportation” policy, Ramos turned to Obama.

“A promise is a promise,” he said, prodding the president over the administration’s deportation of more than 1.4 million people and failure to tackle immigration in his first term. “And, in all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”

Ramos doesn’t let anyone off easy. He gets in their face, and in fact that’s been an American tradition since the seventies, when things shifted and reporters suddenly became heroes. Donald Trump didn’t get the memo.

On the other hand it’s always been that way. There’s Thomas Jefferson’s 1823 letter to Lafayette – “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

The agitation it produces must be submitted to? Someone tell Donald.

Advertisements

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Advocacy Journalism, Donald Trump, Jorge Ramos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Committing Journalism

  1. Rick says:

    When I first saw that video of the Donald Trump-Jorge Rojas bout, I assumed maybe I hadn’t seen all of it, thinking somebody cut out the first part — the part where Trump continuously ignored Rojas’ patient attempts to ask his question (on the grounds that he represented Univision, a group he has a feud with) and that they only picked up the video after Rojas finally lost his patience.

    But after hearing Rojas being interviewed several times, I gather that part about him trying unsuccessfully to be called on never happened — otherwise, Rojas would have mentioned it — which all leads me to believe that Rojas had been actually trying to out-hotdog Trump, by doing something utterly outrageous, in hopes of making a point.

    I think Glenn Greenwald makes a partly good point here:

    The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism.

    Where I think Greenwald is right is in his belief that, despite conventional wisdom, the idea of journalists being required to be neutral about everything, is actually relatively recent. Where he’s wrong is in thinking we still live in an age of objective and neutral journalism — we haven’t, for years now — but also in thinking it has anything to do with the “corporatization of American journalism”.

    First of all, journalistic objectivity became considered a universal principle of journalism only in the 1950s or so. Before then, newspapers were allowed, and even expected to be, partisan — you would read the one you agreed with — but in the late 1940s and 1950s, with the advent of television news programs being broadcast on “the people’s airwaves”, their neutrality became enforced by the government. Yet this “golden age” didn’t even last half of a century, suffering an early death in the 1990s with the birth of Fox News Network — a cable TV channel not regulated by the FCC, and therefore free to take whatever side it wanted.

    So is it okay again to be an advocate-journalist, as Jorge Ramos claims to be?

    Sure, if you don’t mind being ignored now and then when you try to ask a question. Donald knows exactly what Jorge wants to nag him about, and so he shuns him and goes on to someone else. There was a day when treating a journalist this way was totally unacceptable, but that was back when reporters were presumed to be objective and neutral. Nowadays, interviewees have as much right to take no notice of reporters as reporters have the right to shout questions out of turn at news conferences. It all makes great television, even if only for a day or two.

    As I’ve said before, it’s no longer a question of ethics or adhering to professional principles, it’s a marketing decision. Do you want to portray your reporters as devoid of opinions and passions, which might make it easier to get that exclusive Donald Trump interview but also harder to pin him down when he doesn’t answer the hard questions? Or do you want to harass the bastard into answering those hard questions, which you’ll probably never even get a chance to ask, since he’ll never let you get close to him, since everybody knows you’ve got an axe to grind?

    Each position has its advantages and disadvantages, and neither really works as well as you’d hope it would.

    Yet one interesting twist in this story is that, while this new era of partisan journalism was launched by Fox News, it could be said that, as Megyn Kelly might attest, it all came back to bite Fox News, in particular, during that recent GOP debate.

    It’s not really justice, it’s just the way the world works these days.

    Rick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s