RNC Leadership Perpetuates Myth of Latino ‘Activist’ Journalist

Last year, when Jorge Ramos was grilling President Obama for an immigration record that has done more to damage the U.S. Latino community than help it, personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity (who called him RAY-mos) had the Univision and Fusion anchor on their respective shows. They were somewhat complimentary about what Ramos had done.

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Such compliments quickly soured when Ramos suggested that House Republicans were very much at fault for blocking immigration reform, while the Obama administration deported people in record numbers. That talking point had already evolved into the conventional wisdom for many in the U.S. Latino community: the Obama White House has had an awful history of playing political games with U.S. Latino voters while Republicans, well, Republicans give you Steve King. Talk about a Catch-22.

In essence, Ramos —the most influential journalist on U.S. Spanish-language television today and now a “crossover” bilingual journalist (sans the Río Grande stunts)— was just reporting the views of a community he knew more about than O’Reilly, Hannity or any other English-language news personality suddenly interested in the “Latino vote.” When it comes to immigration, U.S. Latinos have had to deal with a “Deporter in Chief” on one side and an opposition party committed to snuffing out its more moderate immigration voices.

Last November, the president’s executive order was overwhelmingly seen as a positive move by U.S. Latinos, leaving the Republicans to go soul-searching again: will the GOP’s latest immigration message come from a Joni Ernst or a Carlos Curbelo?

It is a valid strategic question that will still dominate the 2016 election cycle, despite how many polls suggest that U.S. Latinos care more about other issues than immigration reform. Other issues like education and the economy are seen as more important, but immigration remains the soul of the U.S. Latino voter. And no matter how anyone wants to spin it, unless the GOP decides to dive into immigration reform before 2016, the issue won’t vanish.

Which is why the recent decision by the Republican National Committee to essentially shut out Univision from broadcasting GOP primary debates is a strategic fail. As one friend told me, “Latino outreach by not reaching out to Latinos.” (Disclosure: RAY-mos’ network also owns a video channel which runs a show executive produced by Latino Rebels.)

The RNC decision was bizarre, and it has many wondering what was behind it. From Buzzfeed News:

“It’s highly questionable whether we’re treated fairly on Univision,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus told BuzzFeed News, adding that the party was going to keep at it. “You can fight all day long with people, not to say that that wouldn’t continue, but at the same time you still have to get your message out.”

I mean, we’re talking Univision here, who just last year had Republicans on with Ramos to discuss the Venezuela crisis when U.S. English-language networks didn’t seem to care. Does the RNC really think that Univision’s massive reach into U.S. Hispanic households is exclusively Democratic and liberal, when most would tell you that Latinos are more independent than you think? Does the RNC believe that Telemundo running the debates with NBC will suffice? Maybe, but good luck with that: Univision is a serious ratings player in this country, having earned more viewers at times than ABC, CBS and NBC. Psst, RNC, here’s another thing you should know: U.S. Latinos still watch a lot of TV, whether it is in English or Spanish.

Which leads me to a new New York Times piece about the GOP’s “Jorge Ramos Problem”. What’s the real reason for shutting out Univision and Ramos? The following excerpt might have the answer:

But Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican Party, suggested that because Mr. Ramos had become such an activist on immigration policy, “he’s now taken with a grain of salt.”

“There’s no question that he’s important and that he has a lot of influence, but I think that people now have sort of recognized that he’s more of an advocate than a journalist,” Mr. Spicer said.

He echoed a point that Mr. Romney made in November to Mr. Ramos’s co-anchor at Univision, María Elena Salinas: Latino voters care as much or more about education, health care, jobs and the economy as they do about immigration.

“What’s disappointing,” Mr. Spicer said, “is that Jorge doesn’t want to have that conversation.”

There it is.

Ramos is an “activist,” according to one of the top voices of the RNC.

He is not a journalist who takes a President to task as well as the Speaker of the House.

He is not a journalist because he challenges the coziness of the Washington political press.

If Spicer’s comments reveal anything, it is this: the top leadership of the RNC continues to follow an utterly misinformed read of the U.S. Latino electorate and how Ramos’ influence is viewed within that electorate. According to the RNC, Ramos is an “activist,” code word for being biased, inferior, opinionated, not a “real” journalist and not good enough for American primetime—a theme that continues to play out in the RNC, even after there was a brief indication that maybe the GOP had gotten the memo about the U.S. Latino vote. Whatever happened to that memo? Yesterday’s news. Tomorrow’s fish-and-chip paper.

So this is the current RNC plan: Avoid Univision and Jorge Ramos because they might (gasp) ask Republicans tough questions they can’t answer or want to answer. It’s just not fair! What does the RNC do to justify its current decision? Question Ramos’ credibility as a journalist, because you know these Latinos journalists: they are all “activists.”

Such a short-sighted media strategy will only lead to another loss in 2016. Good luck with that.

Nonetheless, as much as Spicer is quick to paint Ramos as the “activist,” the same Times piece offers a truth the RNC must realize:

Mr. Ramos disputed that he was interested only in immigration and cited the range of issues he covers on the nightly news program “Noticiero Univision”; his Sunday show, “Al Punto”; and his weekly program on Fusion for young Latinos and other millennials, “America With Jorge Ramos.” He said that for Latinos, “just like for the rest of America,” the economy and education were the most important issues.

“But immigration is personal,” he said. “Immigration is the issue that tells us who is with us and who is against us; there’s no question about it. And it’s very simple to understand why — half of all Latinos over 18 years of age were born outside the United States. It really makes no sense to attack them and criticize them if you want their vote.”

It is very simple to understand, yet apparently the RNC doesn’t want to right now. Instead, we hear more about the Steve King weekend and the GOP presidential hopefuls visiting Iowa (kudos to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney for not attending), instead of the RNC accepting the fact that if it truly wants to make inroads into the U.S. Latino community (and maybe it doesn’t?), you have to include Ramos in the fold. Punto.

Ramos is not only the latest iteration of the Latin American periodista, but he also seems to be carrying the torch of other “activist” American journalists.

Remember this activist?

Or this one?

Here’s to those journalists who don’t drink the political Kool-Aid, who don’t fall for the talking points or become a mouthpiece for elected officials and aspiring candidates who want to control the message.

This election cycle (this country) needs more political journalists like Jorge Ramos. Imagine if we had reporters asking political candidates questions with the same passion they asked Tom Brady. That would be something.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on several outlets, including MSNBCCBSNPR,  Univision and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.

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