In his role as the lead anchor of Univision’s nightly Spanish-language newscast and a series of English-and Spanish-language news and public affairs programs for nearly three decades, he regards his role as one part traditional journalist. He’s there to tell people what has happened, when it happened and what it means.
But he would also say that, with the nation’s Latino population growing rapidly, the number of Latino elected officials nowhere near keeping pace and the fate of some 11.3 million undocumented immigrants — many of whom are Latino — now the primary issue in the 2016 election, he and the rest of the news staff at Univision must also play another role: They must embrace the work of social justice. They must report accurately and fairly but never pretend that all information or points of view are equally valid.
The work of Ramos and Univision, as he has told it, is to provide Latinos with the information they need to attend to their political and social interests. Ramos is a crusading journalist, and he does not deny it.
For the nation’s English-only news audience, Ramos’s tangle with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump at a Tuesday-evening press conference in Iowa might have been their first encounter with the silver-haired Ramos. And it might have been that same English-only audience’s first brush with Ramos’s in-your-face, ‘I will not back down’ approach to reporting.
Essentially Ramos, who has a reputation among those who watch and follow his work as a relentless pitbull of a questioner, came face to face with a candidate that’s known for pretty much the same.
His unique approach aside, Ramos is clearly respected and influential as a journalist. Time magazine included him on its list of the nations’s 100 most influential people for several reasons.
First, there’s Ramos and his newscast’s reach. Ramos began his career in his native Mexico on the radio, then moved to the United States when Mexican government censorship made it impossible for Ramos to do the kind of work that he wanted. Since 1986 — yes that’s 29 year years — he’s served at Univision’s primary newsman and anchor.
To put Ramos in perspective, consider that the famed and respected American newsman, Walter Cronkite. Ramos has Cronkite’s time in the anchor chair beat by a decade. There are millions of Spanish-speaking news watchers who have grown up watching Ramos and getting their news from Ramos.
In 2010, Ramos, ranked among the Latino leaders identified by Hispanic Americans in a Pew Research Center poll (a more recent 2013 Pew poll found that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sen. Marco Rubio, a GOP presidential contender, rank first among those leaders). But if there is a big story, a major breaking story, a story of national or international import, Ramos is likely going to cover some aspect of it for Univision, the nation’s leading Spanish-language network.
And here’s the kicker: During more than a few critical ratings periods (known as “sweeps”) in recent years, Ramos’s nightly newscast has drawn bigger audiences than ABC, NBC, CBS and at points, even FOX’s nightly newscasts with the critical 18-to-49-year-old slice of the news-watching audience. (Those are the people that advertisers most want to reach.) And it stands its own with viewers overall in news and entertainment programming.
Ramos’s advocacy has targeted both parties. In 2012, he was openly and overtly critical of the fact that during his first term, the Obama administration set new records for deportations and insisted that Obama could use his executive authority to help so-called Dreamers — or young adults brought to the country illegally as children. That’s something Obama eventually did, creating the program known as DACA. And Ramos criticized him publicly for failing to act sooner too.
When it came to Mitt Romney, Ramos’s disdain for Romney’s immigration ideas —most notably “self-deportation,” a conscious government effort to make life in the United States untenable — was pretty clear too.
But both 2012 candidates agreed to sit down for extended and wide-ranging individual interviews with Ramos and his co-anchor, María Elena Salinas, before the general election. To snub Ramos would have been regarded as an overtly political act. The interviews were largely unflinching, they were conducted in both Spanish and English with the aid of a supremely talented interpreter who kept the audience abreast of all that was said. And, when both interviews were over, nobody described either Romney or Obama as having somehow gotten off easy.
That’s the way that Ramos does his work. That’s what his audience expects. And these days, he’s not alone in the English- or Spanish-language press.
Certainly, both men had to have gone into that interview aware that Ramos had reported on and critiqued their immigration policies extensively and written a book — in English — calling for nothing short of a path to citizenship for the estimate 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United Sates.
And this, of course, brings us to 2016 — or more specifically, the summer of 2015 leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
This summer, Donald Trump has combined his brand of unbridled self-confidence, political inexperience, hardline immigration policies (his policy calls for a temporary halt to all immigration and the deportation of all 11.3 million illegal migrants and their children) and lots of big, bad, bold, in-your-face talk about any number of issues to create what is apparently an appealing political campaign.
And, in all deference to Trump’s political skills, it seems that a significant and growing chunk of America loves what he is doing.
In contrast to Romney and Obama, Trump has refused multiple interview requests from Ramos, including one extended by Univision on Tuesday night. So, Ramos showed up at that Tuesday news conference determined to do what he thought necessary to get Trump to answer key questions about immigration for Univision’s audience.
In practical terms: Ramos stood up and began asking questions at the start. He didn’t wait to be called on by Trump. And, in the now-well-documented moments that followed, Trump told Ramos to “sit down” and “go back to Univision.”
Trump told the reporters who remained in the room after Ramos’ short-lived ejection that he didn’t know Ramos. He went on to describe Ramos as “quite emotional.” But he did somehow seem to know precisely for whom Ramos reports.
It’s worth noting quickly here that Trump is in the middle of suing Ramos’s employer — the Univision network. In June, The Miami-based organization unceremoniously canceled plans to air the Miss Universe pageant and a five-year deal to do the same. The entertainment division of the network decided that it no longer wanted to do business with Trump, the pageant’s partial owner, after Trump described the people coming across the U.S., Mexico border as rapist and criminals during a speech in which Trump announced his plans to run for president.
So, to say that Ramos — one part journalist, one part activist — understands a critical part of his job to include questioning Donald Trump and challenging Trump’s ideas on immigration — well, that would be an understatement.