There are two competing views of last week's confrontation in Dubuque between Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos and Donald Trump, two charismatic figures at the opposite poles of the immigration debate.
According to the vote-for-Jorge crowd, Ramos was a courageous journalist standing up to a bully who had insulted all Latinos with a rant about criminality among Mexican immigrants. The Donald-for-president team, meanwhile, sees Trump as a gutsy politician not afraid to say the unvarnished truth about illegal immigration and the federal government's failure to control it.
I'm not a fan of either Ramos or Trump. But I've never expected much from Trump. I agree with my boss, Mark Krikorian, who has called him "a bloviating megalomaniac". I think his rant against Mexican immigrants was distorted and offensive.
But as a former reporter and as an American citizen, I do expect something from Ramos, the most influential Mexican-American journalist. Ramos, himself an immigrant and a naturalized citizen, also distorts the story of immigration. He presents it as a melodrama in which immigrants — regardless of their legal status — are noble strivers who deserve American citizenship. On the other hand, Ramos sees those who want to stop illegal immigration, as racists and xenophobes.
In his autobiographical 2002 book Atravesando Fronteras (which translates as "crossing borders", though the English version is entitled No Borders), Ramos acknowledged his highly personalized slant on the story, but said that it has not compromised his journalistic integrity. He wrote that (my translation from the Spanish) while "it is clear that I always have had a position in defense of undocumented immigrants," that and other personal positions "have not been reflected in the newscast."
I don't believe that was true in 2002. And it has clearly not been the case as the immigration debate has intensified in recent years. Ramos's bias dominates and permeates his broadcast. He acknowledged as much in 2013 to the Los Angeles Times: "Our position is clearly pro-Latino or pro-immigrant," he said. "We are simply being the voice of those who don't have a voice."
If Ramos wants to be a passionate partisan in his role as the anchorman of the popular nightly newscast on Univision, he has that right under the Constitution. But under the most basic professional and ethical codes of journalism, he has the responsibility to include other voices that would inform his viewers of opposing views.
Ramos fails that standard miserably. He presents those views superficially or not at all. Immigration is a story of tremendous complexity and nuance. But Ramos doesn't do nuance on immigration. Apparently, he is so emotionally invested in the stories that he doesn't even see nuance.
That may be great marketing, but it is bad journalism. And it can inflame the immigration debate as surely as the rants of Donald Trump.