In addition to grading individual candidate performances, media often reverts to its favorite topic: the media. But many in the media have misread, and subsequently misinterpreted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos’ performance in last night’s ABC-Univision Democratic presidential debates.
Ramos has been hailed by some as the real “winner of last night’s debate. Witness former ESPN anchor Jemele Hill:
As well as Ramos’ Univision colleague Enrique Acevedo:
The photo with the debate's big winner. Great job by the entire news team, headed by Jorge Ramos, We speak Spanish and do journalism here, without fear.
Even liberal The Nation went out of its way to fawn over Ramos’ performance, calling it a “master class in how to make a presidential debate meaningful.” But was it really a master class? Not quite.
Much of the media misread of Ramos’ performance stems from his exchange on “democratic socialism” with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Ramos garnered wide praise for daring to ask a tough question. Except that it wasn’t. For starters, Ramos had already put the Venezuela question before Sanders, on Univision’s Sunday political affairs show Al Punto.
In fact, one could call it a dry run inasmuch as Sanders’ answer was identical to what he proffered at the debate, varying only in degree of denunciation of Venezuelan tyrant Nicolás Maduro (going from "abusive" to "cruel tyrant"). Sanders then transitioned into a furious defense of his brand of so-called “democratic socialism,” which made Ramos’ question look a lot tougher than it actually was (click "expand" for full transcript):
RAMOS: Senator Sanders, one country where many immigrants are arriving from is Venezuela. A recent U.N. fact-finding mission found that thousands have been disappeared, tortured, and killed by government forces in Venezuela. You admit that Venezuela does not have free elections, but you refuse to call Nicolas Maduro "un dictador"...a dictator. Can you explain why? And what are the differences between your kind of socialism, and the ones being imposed in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua?
SANDERS: Well, first of all, let me be very clear. Anybody that does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant. What we need now is international and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela so that the people of that country can make...create their own future. In terms of democratic socialism. To equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair. I'll tell you what I believe in terms of democratic socialism. I agree with goes on in Canada and in Scandinavia, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right. I believe that the United States should not be the only major country on Earth not to provide paid family and medical leave. I believe that every worker in this country deserves a living wage and that we expand the trade union movement. I happen to believe also that what, to me, democratic socialism means, is we deal with an issue we do not discuss enough, Jorge...not in the media, and not in Congress. You got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of this country. You got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies and in the media. Maybe, just maybe, what we should be doing is creating an economy that works for all of us, not 1%. That's my understanding of democratic socialism.
But the question only looked tough because Sanders botched the alley-oop. If Ramos’s own Facebook Watch program is any indication, it looked like the question was framed so as to set Sanders up for an affirmative differentiation of “democratic socialism” vis-a-vis Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea. All Bernie had to do, then, was follow Ramos’ own script as seen below (click "expand" for full transcript):
RAMOS: So what, exactly, is democratic socialism? It’s the idea that democracy and the economy work best when there is a strong social safety net- one that provides people with universal access to education and healthcare, one that protects workers and the environment. Democratic socialism believes that people can participate best in a democracy when their basic needs are taken care of. Democratic socialism is different from traditional socialism. Traditional socialism calls for a state-run economy with no free-market capitalism. In practice, traditional socialism often ends in authoritarian disaster. Think of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and North Korea. They all call themselves “socialist countries”. This is what older generations think of when they hear the word “socialism”: poverty, repression, and lack of individual freedoms. But younger generations tend to think of socialism as a system of basic guarantees, protections, and rights for all workers, children, the elderly, and the environment. Most democratic socialists aren’t advocating for a government takeover. They simply want a level playing field for everyone to succeed.
Ramos’ weird segue from Venezuela to veganism, the Amazon to climate legislation (in furtherance of the Green New Deal) reinforces this track. The intent was clearly not to make “democratic socialism” look bad.
Otherwise, Ramos’ role within the debate was wholly predictable. My expectation that Ramos’s role would be narrowly limited to questions about immigration and/or other “Latino issues” was sadly spot-on. The sad spectacle of trotting the Latino out for a round of immigration questions is even more jarring when juxtaposed against minority journalists’ concerns about diversity in the newsroom, or lack thereof.
There are many other issues that are of concern to Hispanics beyond immigration, but that seemed to be lost on both ABC and Univision, who embarrassed themselves by aiding and abetting this spectacle. This wasn’t some new phenomenon, either. As I noted after the NBC-Telemundo Republican presidential debate in 2016 (click "expand" to read more):
I get that immigration is critical to the continued survival of domestic Spanish-language media, but that's no valid reason to continue to shill the false premise of immigration being solely a "Latino issue." Education and job creation routinely top the lists of concerns within the Hispanic community, but these get shoved aside in the name of immigration.
It is even worse, still, to see journalists in Spanish-language media allow themselves to be relegated to the role of Immigration Questioner when these Republican debates roll into town. Given the respective performances of Becky Quick, John Harwood, Carl Quintanilla, John Dickerson, et.al, it's hard to think that Arrarás or anyone else could have done any worse.This is yet another example of how the Left (in this instance, through the media) contribute to the cultural and ethnic Balkanization of our country. In turn, it is a wasted opportunity to promote the virtues of assimilation and acculturation, and to bring the Hispanic community into the fullness of the promise of America. Instead, Hispanic media chooses to keep the community isolated in the name of ratings and political power. The Hispanic community, as is often the case, is who ends up paying the price. For shame.
Fast-forward three and a half years, and the media haven't learned anything. But Ramos certainly knows better.