Jorge Ramos Accepts the ICFJ Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism
Thank you very much, muchas gracias. I bet some of you are watching the debate under the table on your cell phones. I was! No, that is not true.
Thank you so much to the International Center for Journalists for this award. I am humbled and honored to share this award with Yoani, Priyanka and Lynsey.
You know, sometimes we forget how lucky we are in this country. When I hear all their stories and Yoani’s stories and journalists from Mexico and Latin America – they are risking their lives and sometimes here in the United States you have a problem with a president or with mi amigo Donald Trump and you know what happens? Nothing happens! You go home, you take a bike ride with your kids, you go to the super market, and then that’s fine. You go to bed. Nothing happens.
And as a journalist, I really have to admire and have to thank this country for giving me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me. I want to thank Chiqui for being here with me tonight and all of the important moments.
And so...let’s talk about Donald Trump, right?
Well, let me tell you after my encounter with Donald Trump just a couple of months ago, many people have asked me: are you a journalist or an activist?
And I do understand why they ask me that question. After all, what they saw on television, what you saw on television and on social media was a reporter challenging a presidential candidate.
So here’s my answer: I’m just a journalist who asks questions. That’s all.
But sometimes – and this is the difference – sometimes, as a journalist, you have to take a stand. And I took a stand.
What Donald Trump said about Mexican immigrants was wrong and was completely false. No, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are not criminals. The vast majority are not drug-traffickers and they are not rapists.
As a matter of fact, all studies that I’ve seen, all the studies conclude that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those born here in the United States. The reason is very simple: immigrants don’t want to get in trouble with the police because they simply don’t want to be deported.
So I clearly felt that Donald Trump was promoting bigotry and discrimination with his speeches and that it was dangerous for a presidential candidate to attack immigrants and Latinos. Others, unfortunately, have followed his example.
So I did what you would have done. I did what any other reporter would have done: I wrote him a letter, with my cell phone number on it, requesting an interview.
Huge mistake. Because instead of granting me an interview, as he has done with other media, he published my cell phone on Instagram. So of course I had to get a new cell phone.
So first lesson: never, ever, give your cell phone number to Donald Trump.
Still, I had many questions for him. So two months later we went to a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, and you know exactly what happened. He didn’t like my question, he called a bodyguard – taller than me – and he threw me out of the press conference.
I’ve been to Cuba – Yoani – I’ve been to Venezuela but this is the first time in my 30 years as a journalist that I’ve been ejected from a press conference for asking a question.
And thanks to two – and this is important - thanks to two courageous reporters in that press conference, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt and ABC News’ Tom Llamas, Trump – and they really made the difference because Trump was forced to rectify and allowed me back in the room. And after that, he had to listen to my questions about deporting 11 million immigrants, he cannot do that. About building a 1,900-mile wall, he cannot do that either. And denying citizenship to the children born here to undocumented parents. Well he has to change the Constitution before that.
In other words, I finally did my job, which is to ask questions.
We can debate all night if I did the right thing. Let me just say, to my defense, that I did wait for my turn. I did, I did wait for my turn – he just didn’t like the question and then he called on another reporter. But I will not apologize for asking tough questions to a presidential candidate who is offending immigrants, women and other candidates.
I think as you just heard, our most important social responsibility as a journalist is to challenge those who are in power and to prevent the abuse of authority. That’s our job.
Our place is not to be with the powerful but outside the circle of power. Our role is to be the anti-power. Only there, at a distance from power and money, we can gain respect and credibility. Our power as journalists comes from being the anti-power.
In order to challenge the powerful, we have to take a stand. Yes, that is an ethical and moral decision that we have to take in very specific circumstances.
We, as journalists, have to take a stand when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships and human rights. And it is not only the right thing to do but it is our duty to take a stand in those cases.
Unfortunately, we know exactly what happens when we don’t take a stand. I think that for instance we, as journalists, made a big mistake when we didn’t challenge enough the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was our mistake and we have to admit that.
Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator, we know that. But, at that moment, he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and he had nothing to do with 9/11. Only a few reporters, and we have to recognize them, only a few reporters openly and forcefully questioned president bush. But their effort and courage was not enough.
The consequences are here to see: thousands have died in Iraq, Iraq is not a democracy and ISIS is a new threat to our national security. I would like to think that we, as journalists, could have changed that. But the fact is, the fact is that we didn’t.
The lesson is that we should not wait. We have to be the first ones asking questions when human rights are at stake, when politicians lie, when one ethnic group is being attacked, when racism and discrimination are presented as a plan for the future of America.
We just can’t wait to ask those questions after the election. No, the tough questions have to be asked now, right now.
So take a stand and simply don’t apologize for that.
I want to dedicate this award to the families of the 80 journalists who have been killed in Mexico in the last decade and, also, to the reporters in Mexico City who denounced a corruption case known as “La Casa Blanca” or the White House in which Mexico's first lady bought a 7 million dollar home from a government contractor.
You know what happened in Mexico? Nothing happened in Mexico. But those journalists lost their jobs shortly after their report was published.
But they haven't been silenced. What I learned from them is that we should not shut up, we should not sit down and we should not go.
Our job is, simply, to ask questions.
And now if you allow me, I just want to say a few words in Spanish so they listen in Mexico...they have to listen in Mexico.
Quiero sólo decir unas palabras en español para que me oigan quienes están en México. Hoy recordamos fuera de México, a los 43 estudiantes de Ayotzinapa. No nos olvidamos de ellos, aunque el gobierno se haya olvidado. Esa no es la verdad histórica. Hoy nos acordamos de las familias de los 80 periodistas que han sido asesinados. Gracias a esos periodistas, sus vidas no han sido en balde. Gracias a ellos nosotros estamos aquí.
Y quiero reconocer a los periodistas que denunciaron la corrupción del caso de la Casa Blanca [de México]. Quiero que sepan que su valor se escucha fuera de México. Y no se queden callados, porque aquí los estamos escuchando.
Muchas gracias. Thank you so much.