NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s onscreen confrontation with Univision’s Jorge Ramos on Tuesday over the Republican presidential candidate’s immigration plan should only be a surprise to those who don’t know Ramos.
The 57-year-old news anchor has a history of sharply questioning politicians and not hiding his opinions. Days before a security guard forced Ramos out of Trump’s Iowa news conference on Tuesday — he was later let back in and continued a contentious exchange — he had denounced Trump on CNN. Ramos said the immigration issue “is personal” and when Trump voices his views that include mass deportations and revoking the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents, “he’s talking about me” and all the other American Latinos born in another country.
On Fox News Wednesday evening, Ramos said: “Clearly Donald Trump didn’t like my questions and ... he tried to silence me. And in this country you cannot do that. I’m a U.S. citizen, I’m an immigrant, I’m a reporter and I have a right in this country to ask any question I want.”
Ramos is generally considered the most influential television journalist among Latinos living in the United States. He and Maria Elena Salinas co-anchor a weeknight newscast on Univision, the country’s most-watched Spanish-language network. A syndicated columnist, he also hosts a Sunday morning political panel for Univision and a weekly newsmagazine on Fusion, an English-language network geared to Latinos.
A Mexican native who came to the United States as a young journalist when the Mexican government censored one of his reports, Ramos said that Trump’s immigration plan was full of “empty promises. What he’s trying to sell the American public simply doesn’t work. It’s impossible,” he told CNN.
Univision CEO and President Randy Falco issued a statement Wednesday calling Trump’s treatment of Ramos “beneath contempt.”
“Jorge Ramos is one the most professional, dedicated and respected journalists I have seen or worked with in my 40 years in media,” Falco said. “He always asks hard questions of candidates and elected officials, regardless of party or issue. Mr. Trump demonstrated complete disregard for him and for the countless Hispanics whom Jorge seeks to represent.”
Univision said Ramos had earlier requested an interview with Trump, which the candidate rejected before distributing Ramos’ cellphone number on social media. So the Miami-based Ramos travelled to Iowa for the news conference.
Trump on Wednesday said that Ramos was “totally out of line” in the news conference.
“I would have gotten to him very quickly,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show. “This man gets up and starts ranting and raving and screaming, and honestly being very disrespectful to all the other reporters.”
For many Americans schooled in a tradition of objective journalism, the idea of a reporter coming into the situation with such a clear point of view is both unusual and off-putting.
“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,” said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Outside of the news conference before he was let back in, Ramos was approached by a man wearing a Trump badge who told him he was “very rude,” according to a video clip released by Univision.
“Get out of my country,” the man said. “Get out.”
Ramos quietly reminded him, “I’m a U.S. citizen, too.”
There are different standards regarding journalistic objectivity in countries outside of the United States, particularly in Latin America, said Mark Feldstein, a veteran TV newsman and now a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. While there is more advocacy in American journalism now, too, “it’s impossible to imagine any of the American television anchors doing the same thing to Donald Trump or any other serious candidate,” he said.
Most Spanish-language journalists understand that Ramos was operating within an advocacy tradition that does not negate his role as a reporter, said Sallie Hughes, a University of Miami journalism professor with the school’s Latin American Studies program.
Ramos also takes seriously his role as speaking for American Latinos. During the 2012 campaign, he penned open letters to the Republican and Democratic parties bluntly outlining where they stood with the Latino community. He’s had testy exchanges with President Barack Obama, at one point seeming to anger the president by telling him that he’s been called the “deporter-in-chief” by some in the Latin community.
“As a journalist you have to take a stand,” Ramos told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. “I think the best journalism happens when you take a stand and when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public life, dictatorship or human rights, as journalists we are not only required but forced to take a stand and clearly, when Mr. Trump is talking about immigration in an extreme way, we have to confront him and I think that’s what I did.”
It was Univision that arguably put Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, made during his speech announcing his candidacy in June, on the map as a political issue when the network declined to televise the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant. Trump sued the network, a case he pointed out during his exchange with Ramos on Tuesday evening.
Marisol Muniz, a 30-year-old farm worker from Panorama City, California, who came to the United States from Mexico, said some of her friends are now saying “Ramos for president. I think that’s a good idea.”
“I felt angry when I saw the video,” Muniz said. “He was just asking a question. (Trump) wanted to put him down.”
In a certain respect, both Trump and Ramos were speaking to completely different people instead of each other on Tuesday.
“They were each playing to their constituency,” said the University of Maryland’s Feldstein. “Trump is continuing his persona as a tough guy. He looked like a man in control and in charge to people disposed to look at him that way. I’m sure he looked like a bully to Ramos’ audience.”