2014 CPJ Burton Benjamin Memorial Awardee

(Gio Alma)
(Gio Alma)

Jorge Ramos is a Mexican-American journalist and author. He has co-anchored the award-winning evening newscast “Noticiero Univision” (Univision News) since 1986. He also hosts “Al Punto” (To the Point), the Univision Network’s Sunday public affairs program, and recently started hosting his first program in English, “America with Jorge Ramos,” on Fusion, a TV network and joint venture between ABC News and Univision News.

Ramos is one of the most highly respected journalists in the United States and Latin America. He has covered five wars and has reported some of the most important news stories of the past two decades, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Ramos has interviewed some of the world’s most influential political leaders and writers of the 21st century.

He is the author of 11 books and writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, which is distributed by The New York Times Syndicate. He also provides commentary for three daily radio shows for the Univision Radio network and collaborates with www.Univision.com. He has also been instrumental in promoting literacy among Latinos; in 2002, he created “Despierta Leyendo” (Wake Up Reading), the first book club in the history of Hispanic television.

Ramos has received eight Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism, including the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. That same year, Ramos won the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association, as well as the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence, given by the National Press Foundation. In 2011, the Club de Periodistas de México (Journalists’ Club of Mexico) gave him the Premio Internacional de Periodismo (International Journalism Award) for his interviews with the Mexican presidential candidates, and in 2008, the Commonwealth Club of California recognized him with the Distinguished Citizen Award for being one of the outstanding individuals who embody the American Dream as an immigrant to the United States. In 2004, Ramos was honored with the Chairman’s Humanitarian Award from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for the promotion of Latino issues, as well as with the American Association of Publishers’ Honors Award. In 2001, he received the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Journalism Award from Columbia University.

Ramos has been called the “star newscaster of Hispanic TV” by The Wall Street Journal. Time magazine included him in its list of “the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States” and Newsweek in its list of 50 political and media figures. A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”

Ramos holds a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Miami and a bachelor’s in communication from Ibero-American University in Mexico City. He has also completed a post-graduate course in broadcast journalism at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In 2007, the University of Richmond awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Follow Jorge Ramos on Twitter: @jorgeramosnews

Jorge Ramos 2014 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award acceptance speech from Committee to Protect Journalists on Vimeo.

The text of Ramos’ acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

I love being a journalist. It is the only profession in the world in which your job description is to be rebellious and irreverent. In other words, journalism keeps you forever young. As Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez used to say: This is the best profession in the world. But we can, and we should, use journalism as a weapon for a higher purpose: justice.

The best of journalism happens when we take a stand: when we question those who are in power, when we confront the politicians who abuse their authority, when we denounce an injustice. The best of journalism happens when we side with the victims, with the most vulnerable, with those who have no rights. The best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.

I believe in the basics of journalism. I have nothing against objectivity. Our profession is based on finding the facts, on reporting exactly what happened, on being obsessed with details. We should not get it wrong. If five people died, we have to say five, not six or seven. We should get the name right, the quote right, the numbers right. Our credibility depends on this.

I have nothing against being balanced. Every story has at least two points of view and we have to report both. This has to be like a reflex. If a Republican said something, I bet you a Democrat has a response, and vice versa. If a president proposes a new law, the opposition should also have a say. This has to be second nature.

But to get all the facts and to present both points of view doesn’t mean that we got the story right.

When we deal with the powerful, we have to take a stand. Yes, we have to take an ethical decision and side with those who have no power. If we have to decide between being a friend or an enemy of the president, of the governor, of the dictator, it should be an easy choice: I’m a reporter and I don’t want to be your friend.

When I’m doing an interview with someone important, I always assume two things: First, that if I don’t ask the tough questions, nobody else will. That’s my job. And second, that most probably I will never talk to that person again. Some of the worst interviews that I’ve seen happen when the reporter refuses to ask difficult questions just to maintain access to his sources. That’s self-censorship.

Yes, I’m arguing here for “point of view journalism.” It means being transparent, it means recognizing to our audience, to our readers, that we have opinions and a code of ethics. We don’t live in a vacuum. All the time, we are taking moral choices right before the interview, right before the investigation or the coverage. It is perfectly O.K. not to be neutral and to openly take a stand.

We have many great examples of courageous journalists who decided to take a stand:

  • Edward R. Murrow confronted biased Senator Joe McCarthy.
  • Walter Cronkite openly criticized the Vietnam War.
  • The Washington Post reporters got rid of a corrupt president, President Nixon.
  • Christiane Amanpour denounced President Clinton’s flip-flop policies and made him accountable for what happened in Bosnia.
  • And Anderson Cooper showed the incompetence of the Bush administration after Hurricane Katrina.

If they did it, I can do it. Therefore, I think I can call Fidel Castro a dictator, even though I can’t get a visa to go to Cuba.

We were right to report early this year that the Venezuelan government was behind the killings of dozens of students. Obviously, President Maduro hasn’t given us an interview.

And we are right to report now that there is a huge conflict of interest in Mexico because a government contractor is financing the $7 million home of the president’s wife. That’s not saving Mexico. That’s corruption.

Can you imagine what would happen here if a government contractor would secretly finance the private home of Michelle Obama? Well, that is happening in Mexico and, believe it or not, there is not even an independent investigation on this matter. Because of the so-called “White House” in Mexico and the disappearance of 43 students, thousands of Mexicans want President Peña Nieto to resign. We have to report that. No, Peña Nieto doesn’t want to talk to me either.

Now let me tell you what it means for me to be a journalist and to be an immigrant. This defines me. I came to the U.S. after they tried to censor me in Mexico. So this country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me. And, of course, when it comes to immigration, I take a stand.

As an immigrant myself, many times I speak up for other immigrants who don’t have a voice. That’s why I told President Obama that he didn’t keep his promise on immigration and that’s why I told Speaker John Boehner, to his face, that he blocked immigration reform in the House. I think I was just doing my job. As a journalist, part of my job is to make visible the millions of immigrants who are invisible to the rest of America.

I don’t believe in being partisan. But I believe in taking a stand. As Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel once said: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” In front of genocide, dictators, and politicians abusing their power, we can’t be neutral.

The worst in our profession is when we stay silent. Sadly, we stayed silent before the war in Iraq and thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians died unnecessarily. We have to learn from that. Silence is the worst sin in journalism. But the best is when journalism becomes a way of doing justice and speaking truth to power.

That’s why tonight I want to dedicate this award to all the journalists who have been recently killed in Syria and in Mexico. You were our eyes. Now you are part of our soul.

More on the Awards

The ceremony • Awardees • Aung Zaw, BurmaSiamak Ghaderi, IranMikhail Zygar, RussiaFerial Haffajee, South AfricaJorge Ramos, Benjamin Award