Jorge Ramos, the ‘man who wouldn’t sit down,’ chronicled in The New Yorker

September 28, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

The New Yorker

A “Guys and Dolls” moment rocketed Jorge Ramos to further fame, which would be of no surprise to his vast Spanish-language audience.

The Oct. 5 issue of The New Yorker doesn’t mention the words to a one of the many classic “Guys and Dolls” songs, namely “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” but it should have in a profile entitled, “The Man Who Wouldn’t Sit Down.”

That’s because Univision’s famous evening news co-anchor (since 1986) may have won eight Emmys, covered most major stories since the fall of the Berlin Wall, interviewed every president since George H.W. Bush and a slew of South and Central American leaders but was thrust to prominence for an English-speaking audience by refusing to sit down at an Aug. 25 Donald Trump press conference in Dubuque, Iowa (“Go back to Univision,” Trump sneered).

That encounter frames writer William Finnegan’s piece, especially as it reminds readers of the righteous outrage by some mainstream media members with Ramos’s challenge to Trump.

“The media critic Howard Kurtz, of Fox News, said that Ramos behaved ‘like a heckler,’ contravening ‘basic civility’ by not waiting to be called on. Marc Caputo, of Politico, assailed Ramos’s open support of immigration reform, tweeting, ‘This is bias: taking the news personally, explicitly advocating an agenda.'”

But Finnegan is also on the mark in pointedly noting, “For those with little patience for the numbing rituals of the modern press conference, Ramos’s insistence on making unwelcome points had been refreshing, and it was Trump’s heavy-handed response that was unwelcome.”

He notes that the journalist’s “problem with authority” dates to his youth in Mexico and dealing with Benedictine priests whom he felt were reactionary sadists. He didn’t heed his architect father’s urging to be an architect, defied him by majoring in communications in college and wound up a TV news writer, then an on-air reporter.

He stumbled into the co-anchor job and his career has tracked the explosion in Spanish-language television, with his audience greater than that of any of the mainstream broadcast networks’ evening newscasts.

He had the nerve to confront Cuban President Fidel Castro outside a Guadalajara, Mexico hotel, asking “if Marxism was not a museum piece” and has rankled other leaders, even inquiring if they had gained office by fraud (with Ramos knowing that to be true). He’s used questions of the high and mighty as a cudgel and earned the respect of viewers.

His model is Oriana Fallaci, the late and ever-passionate Italian journalist, whose more famous encounters were with Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran, among others. But he also cites Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Stephen Colbert as important reference point and sees their use of comedy as revealing about the state of journalism.

“Ramos thinks that the best political comedians, with their fake news and stone-faced parody, are trusted because they offer, at bottom, ‘transparency’ about their own views, rather than simply a straight news report that viewers have come to know is often riddled with false equivalencies in pursuit of ‘balance.’ (‘Others, however, insist the earth is flat.’)”

He’s made President Obama uneasy by referring to him, during an interview, as “the Deporter-in-Chief.” But Obama has not shied from speaking with him since he’s a vehicle an important audience.

Finnegan portrays his subject in flattering fashion, as a 24/7 bilingual whirling dervish who juggles daily writing, reporting and anchoring demands with de facto celebrity obligations. “I have never heard Ramos say a cynical word. His zeal and outrage seemed deeply felt, genuine.”

And given the now improbable endurance of the Trump campaign, it’s fair to say he’ll have more cause for more outrage as the presidential campaign continues apace.