Nicco Mele: (Lights are turned off) Why are we here? To celebrate journalism. Democracy dies in darkness. (Lights are turned up; Laughter, Applause) On behalf of the Shorenstein Center, I’d like to welcome you to the Goldsmith Awards, the absolute highlight of our year. My name is Nicco Mele. I’m the Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness.” That is the new slogan of The Washington Post. Grandiose, a little, but it’s a useful reminder about the purpose of journalism. Journalism is the only profession explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution—the freedom of the press—and that is because it is essential to the success of our democratic process. Power must be held accountable.
Today we’re here to celebrate the Goldsmith Awards for Investigative Journalism. Six years ago, my predecessor, Alex Jones, invited me to judge these awards. I’m not a journalist and in fact, had had very little experience of journalism. But my experience judging these awards—I think of it as my conversion experience on the road to Damascus. I read over a hundred of the submitted articles that brought to light the worst failings of humanity. Almost every single terrible, depraved thing a human being could do, someone had written a story about. The stories were so intense, I had to stop reading them at night. They just chilled me to the bone. They were dark. But ultimately, what gave me great hope was all of the journalists out there doing this work, digging, toiling away in obscurity, looking into issues of enormous local, national, and global significance, holding power accountable. This is inspiring, the work that journalists do.
What is the fundamental purpose of journalism? Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Its first loyalty is to citizens. Its essence is the discipline of verification. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover. And it must serve as an independent monitor of power. These Awards tonight are made possible by Robert Greenfield, a Philadelphia lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law. He had a client by the name of Berta Marks Goldsmith, and she decided to leave her entire estate to her lawyer. He begged her not to do it, but she did it anyway, and so Bob set out to find a way to honor her memory. She was passionate about news and honest government, and it just so happened that Bob one day struck up a conversation with a complete stranger, Gary Orren, who is on the faculty here. That random encounter led Bob to Marvin Kalb, the Shorenstein Center’s founding director, and out of their meeting came the idea for the Goldsmith Awards.
We’ve been blessed over the years—this is the Goldsmith Awards’ 25th year—by the Greenfield family’s ongoing support. I’d like the members of the Greenfield family here tonight to stand, and also those from the Greenfield Foundation, so we can express our appreciation. (Applause)
Our Career Award this year goes to the remarkable Jorge Ramos, an American hero, but we’ll be hearing from him later. First, the Goldsmith Prizes. The very first Goldsmith Awards are the book prizes, and making those presentations will be my colleague Tom Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School, and a dashing man, to boot. (Laughter, Applause)
Tom Patterson: Best introduction I’ve had in years, right? (Laughter) Nicco, thank you. Two Goldsmith Book Prizes are awarded each year, one for the best academic book in the field of media, politics and public policy, and one for the best trade book. This year’s panel of judges consisted of Nicco, Matt Baum, Marion Just, and myself. Each prize carries a $5,000 cash award.
How much is investigative reporting worth? Not much, by one standard. It can take weeks, even months, for a team of reporters to go from suspicion of wrongdoing to getting unimpeachable evidence. When the story finally breaks, it probably won’t draw a huge audience, and it almost never produces a sustained increase in ratings or circulation. Investigative reporting is a money loser. News outlets might do it anyway for purposes of reputation, but at a time when their business model is under stress, investigative reporting is often one of the first things to go.
What that calculus overlooks, and what our academic book winner studies, are the positive externalities that result from investigative reporting. Positive externalities refer to the benefits to society that do not directly benefit, money-wise, the provider of the benefit, in this case the sponsoring news organization. As James Hamilton shows in convincing and exhaustive detail, the positive externalities of investigative reporting can be huge, a return of thousands of dollars to society for every dollar spent. Investigative reports have led to improved schools, better, safer streets, better medical outcomes, less fraud, less waste, better services, less price gauging. Benefits of that type need to be preserved, and James Hamilton suggests ways for cash-strapped news organizations to keep investigative reporting alive.
Bracing, precise, notable, important. Those are just a few of the words reviewers have used in describing James Hamilton’s Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism. James goes by Jay, and is the first two-time winner of the Goldsmith Academic Book Award. Jay, please step forward to accept the award. (Applause)
Our trade book prize this year goes to Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, by David Greenberg. If your head has been spinning from Trump’s messaging, you might derive a tiny bit of comfort from the fact that it’s a messy version of what’s been going on for a very long time. Starting with William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, David Greenberg takes us through a century of presidencies to show how they have adapted to and exploited changes in communication: Their enlisting of full-time speechwriters, media mentors, spin doctors; their use of polls to shape and track messages; their transition from informal chats with reporters to made-for-television press conferences.
Republic of Spin is more than a cataloguing of presidents and their methods. It dissects the long arc of presidential communication, from Roosevelt’s goal of making the office more transparent, to the recent goal of tight message control. The book also has fascinating accounts of the interplay between what’s happening outside the White House and what’s going on inside. Changes in journalism have invariably prompted change at the White House. That was true of the muckrakers in the early 1900s, the stenographic reporting that marked the mid-twentieth century, the aggressive reporting that came out of Vietnam and Watergate, and the media fragmentation of today’s digital revolution.
Republic of Spin is more than an eye-opening book; it’s a good read, deserving of a spot on your bedside table. David Greenberg, please step forward to accept the Goldsmith Trade Book Prize. (Applause)
Nicco Mele: Now, before introducing the six finalists for our Goldsmith Prizes in Investigative Journalism, I’d like to thank this year’s judges. It’s a huge amount of reading and discussion, and it’s a significant time commitment. This year’s judges were Audra Burch, the enterprise and investigative reporter at the Miami Herald and 2015 Goldsmith Prize winner; Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher at the Los Angeles Times; Mike Greenfield of the Greenfield Foundation; and Sacha Pfeiffer, reporter at The Boston Globe and 2003 Goldsmith Prize winner. Thank you very much for your time. (Applause)
I chaired the meeting and served as a judge. The judges recused themselves from voting on entries from their employer.
But it’s now time to get to these six finalists, and I’ll introduce them in alphabetical order by news organization. First, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Their piece, “Doctors & Sex Abuse,” is our first Goldsmith finalist. The relationship between a doctor and a patient is sacred. Most physicians would never betray that trust. But a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that many doctors often do betray that trust, and worse, they don’t face any consequences.
The AJC’s team spent a year meticulously examining medical board documents from around the country, and exposed thousands of cases of physician sexual abuse spread across every state in the union. The scope of their investigation, across all 50 states, was staggering and impressive. The reporters also uncovered other disturbing trends. They revealed an opaque system that allows predatory doctors to keep practicing, even after receiving light disciplinary measures, if they receive any at all. Offending doctors are simply sent to therapy, and their license is often quickly reinstated. State boards handled many cases secretly, and in other cases masked sexual misconduct in vague language.
Perhaps most disturbingly, in thousands of cases that the AJC’s reporters examined, more than half the doctors disciplined for sexual misconduct with patients since 1999 were still licensed to practice. But their work is sparking change. Several states have made doctor sex abuse findings more available to the public. The Georgia Medical Board is reexamining its handling of sexual misconduct. Lawmakers in several states are considering strengthening patient protection, and the Federation of State Medical Boards has asked the AJC to address its annual conference this year.
Would Carrie Teegardin, Danny Robbins, Ariel Hart, Jeff Ernsthausen, Alan Judd and Johnny Edwards of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution please stand and be recognized. (Applause)
Next up is the Chicago Tribune. How many of you have stood in line at CVS or Walgreens, about to fulfill a prescription, and assumed that the pharmacists behind the counter were looking out for you? Dangerous drug combinations are a major public health problem, hospitalizing tens of thousands of people each year. Pharmacists are the last line of defense, and their role is growing as more Americans use prescription drugs. If you are at risk of a dangerous drug interaction, your pharmacist should warn you. But do they? The Chicago Tribune attempted to find out, with its “Dangerous Doses” series.
The Tribune’s reporters visited 250 pharmacies over the span of nine months to see if the stores would dispense risky drug pairs without any warnings. The results alarmed the industry, pharmacists, and top experts. The team found that 52 percent of the pharmacies sold medications without mentioning any potential dangerous complications. It’s striking evidence of an industrywide failure that places millions of consumers at risk. Their study, two years in the making, exposed deep, systemic flaws in the pharmacy industry. Safety laws are not being followed. Computerized alert systems designed to flag drug interactions either don’t work or are ignored, and some pharmacies emphasized fast service over patient safety. The investigation has already impacted millions of lives. It prompted reforms throughout the nation’s retail pharmacies, including major chains like CVS and Walgreens. It has lawmakers and regulatory authorities pushing for improved laws and policies, and has created a new model to discover hidden drug interactions. Experts say the moves represent the biggest steps to safeguard the public against the dangers of prescription drug interactions in a generation.
Would Sam Roe, Karisa King and Ray Long of the Chicago Tribune please stand? (Applause)
Late last year, a Los Angeles Times reader emailed the paper to say that her friend was serving in the National Guard and was being forced to repay an enlistment bonus he’d been given years before. She wrote, “The military made a mistake and is requiring our soldiers and families to pay for their mistake. Please, please help.” So reporter David Cloud went to work, and what he found was startling. He confirmed that the California Guard was trying to force at least 9,700 soldiers and veterans to repay their enlistment bonuses and other incentives that were improperly awarded more than a decade ago. Many of the soldiers had served in combat, and some had been wounded. In fact, getting wounded made it more likely you were ordered to repay your bonuses, because you couldn’t complete your enlistment contract. Veterans who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were now thousands of dollars in debt and unable to qualify for home mortgages and car loans, and faced other hardships.
The LA Times investigation found that mismanagement was behind many of the repayment demands. Soldiers who had served with honor faced crushing debts, simply because the California Guard had lost their paperwork. Army audits showed similar problems in at least four other states. This story had national impact. Ramifications were enormous. Within days, President Obama had ordered the Pentagon to resolve the problem. A day later, Defense Secretary Ash Carter suspended the California Guard effort, and ordered an expedited review. In December, Congress passed legislation intended to forgive the bonus debts for 90 percent of those affected, and to wipe clean their ruined credit scores. President Obama signed the provision into law.
For his work in the California National Guard bonus scandal, would David Cloud of the Los Angeles Times please stand? (Applause)
Prison reform has become a major topic of national conversation, but details about what happens inside private prisons, which house over 9 percent of the nation’s inmates, have remained largely hidden from public scrutiny, with very little accountability. To see what private prisons are really like, Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer decided the only way to understand what was happening on the inside was to go there himself. Bauer applied to be a guard at a private prison in Louisiana. He did not hide his identity as a journalist; he listed it in on his employment application. And then he documented his horrifying odyssey in the groundbreaking piece “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.” Witnessing stabbings and escapes and lockdowns, Bauer shed light on the brutality of life in private prisons. His four-part story is a raw, gripping chronicle of both a company’s struggle to maintain control of this facility stretched beyond breaking point due to cost-cutting and mismanagement, and his own fight to maintain his humanity in a system that destroys inmates and guards.
Bauer and the Mother Jones research team spent months poring over lawsuits, compiling data, talking to former prison guards and inmates, who were not inclined to come forward, and dealing with hostile and, at times, openly threatening responses from the company they were investigating. As a result of Bauer’s story, a federal investigator reached out to him, noting that the investigation had resonated with his audit team. Within a few months, the Department of Justice announced it would stop its use of private prisons, and the Department of Homeland Security said it would consider doing the same.
Would Shane Bauer of Mother Jones please stand? (Applause)
Does the color of your skin affect how much time you spend behind bars? To find out, reporters from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune methodically sifted through 12 years of sentencing data to determine whether sentencing in Florida treated blacks and whites equally. The results were disheartening. The paper’s yearlong investigation, “Bias on the Bench,” found that black defendants received longer sentences on average than whites for the same crimes, committed under the same circumstances, in the same communities. Moreover, black defendants got fewer chances to avoid jail or scrub away felonies. African Americans got more time behind bars, sometimes double the sentences of comparable white people.
Though the series was just published, Florida lawmakers are already calling for judicial oversight. Several members of the Judiciary Committee suggested a mandatory annual review of sentencing patterns so that judges, prosecutors and voters can be made aware of potential bias. The Chief Judge of the Eighth Circuit is recommending analysis of sentencing decisions in his jurisdiction, and may change the way judges are assigned cases. The series itself will also be incorporated into the next Florida Judicial College diversity training, which all judges are required to attend.
Would Josh Salman, Emily Le Coz and Elizabeth Johnson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune please stand? (Applause)
Up until recently, the biotech company Theranos was the darling of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. The $9 billion laboratory startup had promised to revolutionize blood testing by drawing just a few drops of blood with a finger prick. But it was not all it seemed to be. Galvanized by an anonymous tip, a team of reporters from The Wall Street Journal launched a thorough and exhaustive investigation into the company. Its series of reports, “The Downfall of Theranos,” highlighted explosive discoveries: The company’s technology did not work as advertised; Theranos had covered up its failures, hid problems, threatened a whistleblower and put at risk the lives of tens of thousands of patients who depended on reliable blood tests. The Wall Street Journal put a human face on the toll of Theranos’ inaccurate tests, showing how the shoddy results traumatized patients and upended their lives and healthcare.
As a direct result of the Journal’s reporting, Theranos closed its lab operations. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was banned by regulators for at least two years from running a laboratory, and is facing criminal and civil investigations. Patients and investors sued Theranos, alleging they were misled and harmed. Were it not for The Wall Street Journal’s reporting, tens of thousands of patients would have been put at risk.
Would John Carreyrou, Christopher Weaver and Michael Siconolfi of The Wall Street Journal please stand? (Applause)
Before announcing the winner of the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, I want to note the generosity of the Goldsmith Fund of the Greenfield Foundation. Each team gets $10,000, and the winner gets $25,000. I want to ask all of the journalists, the finalists, to stand once again. These people are American heroes, holding power accountable at great personal cost. Thank you. (Applause)
All right, the envelope, please. No PricewaterhouseCoopers staff involved in this one. (Laughter) The winner of the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for 2017 is Shane Bauer of Mother Jones for “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.” (Applause)
Now, it’s my distinct pleasure to introduce the recipient of this year’s Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism, Jorge Ramos. (Applause) That’s right. August of 2015 seems so far away at this point, but it was the early weeks of the Republican primary, and Donald Trump had Jorge Ramos forcibly removed from a press conference in Iowa. For many, it was our first hint of Trump’s willingness to antagonize the media and avoid accountability.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Mr. Ramos knows this well. He was a young journalist starting his career in Mexico on a show by Grupo Televisa called 60 Minutos. While working on his third assignment, the show’s editors cut entire segments and interviews that they thought were too critical of the president and his ruling party. He was just 24 years old. Now, I want you to imagine for a moment it is your first big job out of college. It is a dream job that is going to set you on a path to incredible success in your chosen field, and your bosses want you to just cool it a little, that’s a little much. They just want you to tone it down. What would you do?
“I didn’t want to be a censored journalist, so I quit.” In some ways, we have that act of censorship to thank that Jorge Ramos is now a U.S. citizen. He ended up moving to Los Angeles and enrolling at UCLA, working shifts as a waiter while taking classes in television journalism. But his talent and abilities quickly led to an on-air job as a local reporter with KNX in Los Angeles, followed by a move to Miami to cohost Mundo Latino, a two-hour morning show. And then, at the age of 28, Jorge Ramos became the top anchor on Univision, one of the youngest major news anchors in the history of American television.
Noticiero Univision, which Ramos has co-anchored since 1986, is the highest-rated newscast among U.S. Hispanics, and the most watched newscast, regardless of language, in New York and Los Angeles. Every evening at 6:30 p.m., he and his co-anchor, María Elena Salinas, reach an average audience of 2.2 million viewers, over half of them under 50, consistently beating English-language networks in the same time period. In September of 2007, Ramos became the host of Al Punto, Univision’s first Sunday morning political show, which is currently watched by an average of half a million viewers under the age of 50 each week.
Jorge Ramos is, in short, the most watched television news anchor in America. He is a leader in his profession. In 2003, he was the first evening network TV anchor to broadcast live coverage of the Iraq invasion from the Middle East. But surely among his greatest achievements is that his daughter, Paola, is an alumna of the Kennedy School. (Laughter)
Jorge Ramos tirelessly advances new ways of thinking about and understanding the fault lines in our world. I recently watched the documentary he made just last year, Hate Rising, that brought the fears of the audiences he speaks to, to our screens with power and grace. It’s an incredible experience, and I encourage you to watch it.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth, and its first loyalty is to citizens. Jorge Ramos understands this to his core. Please join me in welcoming him to the stage. (Applause)
Jorge Ramos: I’m glad there’s no envelope here. (Laughter) You know, every time you get a career award, you start thinking, oh no, is this the end of my career? (Laughter) Or do you know something that I don’t know? And right before this meeting, I was having a conversation with some students here at Harvard, and I was telling them, “Look at me. But really, look at me, because I am a dinosaur.” And I am a dinosaur. I mean, every night I’m asking people to tune in at 6:30 to watch the newscast, right? But if you do it at 6:29, I’m not there, and if it’s 7:01, I’m not there, either. There’s a huge migration of high visibility from big TV screens to cellphones, and in order not to be extinct I really have to move somewhere else. So I’m a dinosaur, regardless of whatever you might think. Thank you so much. Thanks for this, Nicco. Thanks to Harvard. Thanks for this recognition.
I’m going to have to talk about Trump. Is that OK? ( Laughter) Let me start by saying just this: No, Mr. Trump, I am not your enemy, but honestly, I don’t want to be your friend, either. (Applause) And that’s the end of my speech. That’s it. ( Laughter) Really, that’s the end of my speech. If you want, I’ll tell you how I got there.
I am an immigrant, I am a journalist, and I am the father of Nicolas and Paola, three things that define me. I’ll spare you the details of my wonderful experience as a father, but I’ll just say that Paola, who is actually, as you know now, a Harvard Kennedy School alumna, and Nicolas, taught me what’s really important in life: In other words, to be yourself, to care for one another, and when needed, to defend with all your energy what you believe in. So let me then concentrate on the other two things that define me. I want to tell you what it means for me to be an immigrant and a journalist in the era of Donald Trump.
I feel such a sense of mission that, at 58, I think I’ve been preparing all my life for this moment, for this fight. And yes, it is a fight. This country has been wonderful to me. This country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me. I left Mexico in 1983 because of censorship, as you know now. And back then, you simply couldn’t criticize the Mexican president in the media. I tried and I failed. I really failed. So just imagine my shock when I arrived in the U.S. and everybody was criticizing the American president, and nothing happened, there were no consequences. My first thought was, I love this country. (Laughter) Really. And I still do.
Every immigrant can tell you this story: That something pushed them out of their country of origin, and that something else just as forcefully pulled them into their new, adopted nation. What pulled me in was, initially, the freedom of the press, a freedom that I had never experienced before in my life. But there was also something else. I was just an immigrant, and a young student at UCLA Extension, trying to reinvent my life, and the beautiful thing is that everybody—everybody—treated me as an equal.
What Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his book Democracy in America in 1835 was still true in the 1980s, when I arrived in Los Angeles. The concept of “equality of condition” is still a part of life in America. And, of course, we have to admit there’s plenty—plenty—of racism and discrimination to go around. But for every infraction, every attack, and every abuse, there has always been the opposite. We can always confront that with a wonderful phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “All men and women are created equal.”
So my American education was based on two principles. First, I can say whatever I want, as long as I’m responsible for every single word, even on Twitter. ( Laughter) Yeah, you’ve got to be responsible for that, too. And the second principle is that everybody is equal, regardless of the color of your skin, your accent—an accent like mine—your country of origin, your religion or your ideas. That’s how I grew up here. That’s what you taught me. And I embraced those two principles with all my heart.
Since then, my goal has always been that all the immigrants who came after me should be treated with the same generosity and respect with which I was treated. That wasn’t always the case, but in general, I never felt that the immigrant tradition in the United States was at risk. And then came Donald Trump.
I never expected that the son of a Scottish immigrant, with a German grandfather and married to a Slovenian, would be such a threat to millions of foreigners and their American-born children. On June 16, 2015, he said that when Mexico sends its people, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” And he didn’t say—and this is important—he didn’t say some of them, or a tiny minority, or even a few undocumented immigrants. No, he didn’t say that. I am a Mexican immigrant. He was talking about me. It’s personal. He was talking about me, and millions like me. And I knew that he was wrong.
Constantly, Trump complains about “fake news,” but he is spreading fake news about undocumented immigrants. (Applause) That is true. He is criminalizing immigrants and making them scapegoats for our economic problems, and nothing is easier than to blame those who cannot defend themselves. If you listen to him, as I did in his speech to Congress last Tuesday, you might even think that most “illegals,” as he calls them, are “gang members, drug dealers, and criminals.” Those are the words that he used. And that is not true. First of all, no human being is illegal, as Elie Wiesel constantly reminded us. (Applause) No human being is illegal. And second, immigrants are less likely to be criminals than those born in the United States, according to a study by the American Immigration Council.
Let me give you another example. The undocumented population has more than tripled, from 3.5 million in 1990 to about 11.2 million in 2013. Since then, that figure hasn’t changed; it’s been about 11 million. So it’s been going up. In the same period, according to the FBI, violent crime declined 48 percent. So, here you have more immigrants, more undocumented immigrants, and at the same time crime declined by 48 percent. So this is the case: The more immigrants that you have, the less cases of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Why? The answer is very simple. You don’t have to go to Harvard to answer that one. (Laughter) Immigrants don’t want to get in trouble with the police. That’s it. They just want to work and provide for their families. And let me tell you, there are many more buenos hombres than bad hombres. (Applause) So this case is closed.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about money. Immigrants, let me tell you, we are a great business. They put much more money into the system than they take out from public services. Actually, there is an “immigration surplus.” Immigrants contribute, on average, over $2 billion every single year to the growth of the U.S. economy. If you want to see the numbers, please check the recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. Immigrants pay taxes. They create jobs. They are loyal consumers. They do the jobs that nobody else wants to do. They contribute to the Social Security Fund. And they don’t collect, simply because they can’t. They build our homes. They harvest our food. They babysit our children. And, contrary to what Trump has suggested, immigrants are not taking jobs away from Americans. Immigrants are a boon to our economy and our culture, and the vast majority—this is very important—the vast majority are not criminals. Those are the facts, so don’t let Donald Trump tell you otherwise. When it comes to undocumented immigrants, Donald Trump is the king of fake news. (Applause) He is, because he’s not telling the truth.
As you might imagine, this is an issue that moves me and hurts me. Since Trump announced his candidacy for president, I haven’t stopped calling him out. I asked him for an interview—I don’t know if you know that, but I asked him for an interview—and instead of that, he published my cellphone number online. I asked him a question at a press conference in Iowa, and he used a bodyguard to throw me out of the room, the same way Fidel Castro did once with a bodyguard. Donald Trump hates to be challenged. He’s not used to being questioned. But that’s precisely what we have to do as journalists.
I don’t know—honestly, I don’t know—if Donald Trump is a racist. I don’t know what’s in Donald Trump’s head. But I’ve heard what is coming out of his mouth. Again, I don’t know if he’s a racist, but I do know that he made racist and xenophobic remarks during the presidential campaign. I don’t know if he’s sexist, but he made crude and misogynist statements before the election. That’s exactly why many people don’t respect Donald Trump. He’s a president desperately seeking validation and respect, and he is not getting it, at least not from me. (Applause)
The press now has changed. The press now is questioning every single word Trump says, and that’s the way it should be, but that was not always the case during the run for the White House. Donald Trump has forced reporters to redefine journalism in the 21st century, and to understand that there’s a very important moral and ethical component to our profession. Yes, we have the responsibility to report reality as it is, not as we wish it would be. However, in very specific circumstances, we have to go beyond just reporting and take a stand.
I’ve identified six areas in which we have the moral obligation to confront politicians and people in positions of authority. When it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships and human rights, we have to take a stand. The most important social responsibility that we have as journalists is to question those in power, and if we don’t, nobody else will.
Now, in order to do that, you cannot be in bed with the politicians. There has to be a distance. I think our position as journalists is to be on the opposite side of power. Yes, that’s where we belong: on the opposite side of power. I don’t believe that the press is the “opposition party,” as White House strategist Steve Bannon suggested recently. By definition, real journalists are nonpartisan, and independence defines our job. But I do believe, again, that we have to be on the opposite side of power, regardless of who is in the White House, a Democrat or a Republican.
There’s a beautiful word in Spanish that defines our role as journalists. It’s contrapoder. Contra means “against” and poder means “power.” Believe me, I’ve looked for the right translation of contrapoder, and I couldn’t find it. Maybe “countervailing power” is the closest translation there is, but it’s not precise. Contrapoder means to be on the opposite side of power, and at the same time to confront that power. Well, that’s our role as journalists in a democracy like ours: To be on the other side of power, and to confront those who have the power, the authority and the money.
Bannon’s idea of the press is very similar to Trump’s. A couple of weeks ago—I’m sure you saw it—Trump sent a tweet that said the following: “Fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People. Sick!” That’s what he tweeted. Well, apparently Trump thinks that only reporters who have a friendly or not antagonistic relationship with him can accurately report about his government. Again, he’s wrong. The last thing an independent and trustworthy reporter should do is to be a friend of the president. I don’t want to be his amigo. I don’t. Trump sees respected news organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN as the enemy, and, as it is very clear, I cannot change Donald Trump’s mind. But I don’t see the press as the enemy of the president, or the American people. We’re just doing our job, which is to hold him accountable.
Now, if Trump attacks the press and the First Amendment, I don’t mind to be seen by him as the enemy. I will always defend freedom of the press. If Trump attacks our democracy and our judges, I don’t mind to be seen by him as the enemy. I don’t. And if he insists on unfairly blaming immigrants for all our economic and national security problems, again, I don’t care if he sees me as the enemy. That’s his problem. I’m just doing my job as a journalist.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, Mr. Trump, you and your government are not my enemy, but I don’t want to be your friend, either. Thank you very much. (Applause)
Nicco Mele: Thank you. (Applause) So, we will now take questions. Three rules: One, introduce yourself; two, make it a question; three, keep it brief.
Jorge Ramos: By the way, this is very important—if you don’t agree with what I say, it’s perfect, it’s fine. I mean, I’m used to that, and I enjoy it. Last week I was with Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and that’s where I have to be, with people who don’t agree with me, and that’s the important thing. And I hope that we can do exactly like that right now. OK, go ahead.
Antonio Copete: Hi, Mr. Ramos. My name is Antonio Copete. I’m a postdoc here at Harvard at the Center for Astrophysics, and I come originally from Colombia. I want to refer to that expression, to that term “illegal alien” that’s so prevailing in the American law, which probably I dislike probably as much as you do, and I know that’s saying a lot, because I agree that it’s a term that probably kind of dehumanizes the person. I’m an alien myself, technically. At the same time, I hear you many times uttering the sentence, “No human being is illegal.”
Jorge Ramos: Actually, it’s a quote by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor.
Antonio Copete: Ah, OK, well, that was part of my question, because I know you use it a lot, especially when you engage people who are against the rights of undocumented workers. I would say I’m not 100 percent convinced that it’s the most effective term to use in that kind of argument. I think it might lead to some confusion. But I wanted to give you the opportunity to explain to us what that term means to you, and your experience using it, especially when you’re engaging with the people who are against the rights of immigrants.
Jorge Ramos: Yeah, I mean, if you say “illegal,” you’re dehumanizing someone. And Elie Wiesel understood it perfectly: no human being is illegal. So if they call you “illegal,” then basically, you have no rights. And the fact is that undocumented immigrants, about 11 million of them, they are here, they’re part of this country. Last week, I was talking with a good friend of mine. I’ve been here 34 years; he’s been here 28 years. And I’m very lucky—that’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think?—that this country embraced me, this country not only gave me the opportunities but at some point said, “Hey, come on, Jorge, you can be part of this country.” “What do you mean?” “Yes, be part of this country. Be a U.S. citizen. Vote. Do everything. Have a job. Speak both languages.” And I said yes, and the U.S. said yes, and here I am.
But this guy, this friend of mine, he’s been here 28 years, and the only difference between him and me is that I have a blue passport and he doesn’t. That’s the only thing. I gave a speech last week, and I said, “This is our country, not theirs.” I really meant—it is ours. It is theirs and mine. It is everybody’s country. Nothing enrages the alt-right more than to think that this is also our country, and it is our country.
Think of this: in 2044, white non-Hispanics will become a minority. In other words, we are going to be like California—I don’t know if you like that or not (Laughter)—or like Texas. But just go to a school in California, or to a hospital in California. That’s the way it’s going to be, this country. So we’d better learn to exercise tolerance and acceptance of others, and to understand that it’s going to be—it’s already—a great country. It’s going to be great for me if I’m going to be here in 2044; I’m going to be eighty-something. I just don’t want them to dehumanize other immigrants like me, because I’m just an immigrant with a lot of luck, and with a blue passport. Thank you.
Nathan Goldberg: Hi. My name is Nathan Goldberg. I’m an undergrad here at the college. I am also a Mexican immigrant. I also feel a lot of love for this country that has offered me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in Mexico. But do you still feel a sense of duty to make things better back home? And how do you balance that with carrying out a career in the United States, while still looking back and seeing what you can do to make Mexico a better place?
Jorge Ramos: Yeah, something great about mass media is that when I left Mexico in 1983, I had a small Volkswagen—Vochito, we used to call them—and I didn’t have any money, so I sold my Vochito, I got $2,000, and I came here. And back then, I thought I was saying goodbye to Mexico, but then came the satellites, and then the digital media and Twitter and Facebook, and now I’m talking to you right now, and I bet you there’s people listening to me in Mexico. And if I say something bad about President Peña Nieto—and I usually say that a lot…(Laughter) I mean, he waited 265 days to respond to Donald Trump for the first time. And when he had Donald Trump in a press conference, he didn’t say, “No, we won’t pay for the wall.” So he’s listening right now. (Laughter)
I’ve been reading a little bit of history lately, and there’s an interesting comparison between Montezuma and Peña Nieto. Montezuma, on November 8, 1519, confronted the Spaniards who were arriving, and instead of confronting them and saying, “No, this is our place, this is our country, our nation,” he took them to their palace, and then they just didn’t want to leave. Peña Nieto, 497 years later, didn’t learn that lesson, and he took Donald Trump to his house, and now he wants us to pay for that. So yes, I do think that I have a responsibility with my country, with Mexico, with the United States—that’s also my country—and with Latin America. And the beauty about mass media is that I can do it just by speaking right here. I don’t have to go there every single night to do it.
Eduardo González: Good evening, Mr. Ramos. My name is Eduardo González. I’m a junior at the college. Thank you so much for coming to speak with us today. I think I’m not alone in the crowd tonight when I say that I truly believe that journalists such as yourself and the other finalists that were here tonight for the Goldsmith Awards are doing something that’s invaluable for democracy. You’re holding leaders accountable. (Applause) Oh, thank you. And that’s not a minority opinion here in this room, but I also think that it’s important to recognize that today, in 2017, there are millions of Americans who are starting to view the “mainstream media,” which is a term that they use, viciously, as the enemy, and as something that’s untrustworthy. And students of history will tremble at the prospect of an America that is filled with millions of citizens that start to listen dogmatically to the rhetoric that is espoused by Donald Trump, and to ignore and to attack and to belittle journalists who are simply doing their job of trying to keep leaders accountable. And so I’m wondering, how do you, as a journalist, look hopefully to the future? What do you think is your role in trying to reach these people? Who, for all accounts and purposes, could be good people, could be good citizens—but there’s a growing divide between people who believe fake news, who believe that the mainstream media is fake news—and the rest of us who are worried about that future. So how do you see your role in trying to bridge that divide?
Jorge Ramos: There are many different ways to respond to that. One is that we have to engage them, if they don’t agree with you, in a conversation. Look, as journalists, we made many mistakes before the election. We didn’t see it coming. We made a mistake. I made a mistake. I thought that, for instance, that Latinos could define an election. That was not the case. I said many times that no one can make it to the White House without the Latino vote, and guess what happened? Donald Trump made it to the White House without the Latino vote. So, yes, we were ahead of our time, and eventually that’s going to be the case, but we didn’t see it coming. We believed the polls, and then we didn’t realize that many people were not talking to pollsters and talking to journalists.
And then we really didn’t want to listen to the “others,” as we defined them. I work in a beautiful newsroom in Miami, but then there’s a small radio station that’s also in the same newsroom, and in that radio station in Miami, in Spanish, every single morning I was listening to people saying, “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump. I don’t care what other Latinos are saying. I’m going to vote for Donald Trump.” We didn’t see that 29 percent of Latinos were going to vote for him. We didn’t see the resentment that was growing in the white non-Hispanic population in other areas, in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania. We didn’t see it. So, as journalists, we’re supposed to report reality as it is, but we were not seeing reality. So I think we have to admit first that we have to be much more open to listening to other groups, and to other people, and to leave the newsroom. That’s one thing.
Second, we have some of the best and most courageous investigative reporters in the country right here in this room right now, and they’re risking their lives, and they are—don’t think that you can attack the president, that you can attack an institution, that you can attack hospitals, that you can attack private prisons, as you did, and then that you can go home and everything’s going to be fine. I mean, you’re scared. As a journalist, there’s always fear, but the fact is that I learned something from the DREAMers. They told me that the first step to change things is to confront that fear and make sure that you conquer it. (Applause) The investigative journalists that you have right here, that’s exactly what they do every single time, and they’re doing it simply for the truth. That’s it. That’s what we do.
And then—and this is important—it’s a difficult time. And the most important—let me emphasize this—the most important social responsibility that we have—of course we have to report—if it’s blue, we say blue; if six people died, we say six. I think we understand that objectivity, in that sense, has to rule. However, there’s a moment in which you have to take a stand. If we don’t ask tough questions of those who are in power, who’s going to do that? Nobody’s going to do that. That’s our responsibility. And when it comes to Donald Trump, and to other politicians, many journalists like to play the game of access. If I have access, then it’s OK, I’m not going to be as tough with him. And that’s not the way it works, because at the end, if you just look for access to the powerful, you’re going to be part of them. And as I was saying, I think if power is right here, we have to be on the opposite side of power. We cannot be where the powerful are, because that’s not our role. If you want to be with the powerful, then give up journalism. So that’s what I would say—first, listen to the others. Really support investigative journalism. We have some of the best investigative journalists in the world. And keep on asking tough questions.
Eduardo González: Thank you.
Farai Chideya: Hi, I’m Farai Chideya. I’m a Shorenstein Fellow and a longtime reporter, including doing some reporting along the U.S.–Mexico border over the years. At one point in 2010 I interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, and also Sheriff Estrada in Nogales, Arizona, the only Latino sheriff, and he was completely against this idea of the border wall. And I think anyone who has a rational sense of what a border wall means knows it makes no sense, but how do you deal with—and you’ve talked about this somewhat—but how do you specifically deal with the polarization around facts? You can state a fact and some people will accept it; some people will reject it out of hand. And it seems like the border wall issue is a microcosm of that. So how do you intend to continue reporting on this debate about the border wall, and how do you deal with, whether it’s people who are friendly to what you say or unfriendly, this rejection of facts sometimes?
Jorge Ramos: Keep on insisting on the facts. But I think the wall is a great example, because after I was ejected from the press conference Donald Trump told me, “Go back to Univision,” and then outside the room there was someone who told me, “Get out of my country.” So I think hate is contagious, and you’ve got to insist on what you believe in. So after he told me, “Get out of my country,” I came back to the room and asked my question. And then I told Donald Trump, “You know, the wall isn’t going to work, because you want to build a 1,900-mile wall, it’s going to cost twenty-something billion dollars, and then it’s completely useless.” If he’s such a smart businessman, how come he wants to build something that doesn’t work? Almost 40 percent of immigrants come by plane, or with a visa. (Laughter) So—that’s true. I’m not making up that fact. If you want, go and check it, it’s right there. About 45 percent of immigrants come with a visa, or by plane. So it doesn’t matter how tall the wall is going to be, how expensive, how beautiful the wall is going to be, (Laughter) it doesn’t work. It really doesn’t work.
Now, another little bit of news: there is no invasion. Actually, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than come in here, and the number of undocumented immigrants has remained stable at about 11 million. So something is working. I’d rather use legal means of controlling immigration than a wall. So I would just insist on the facts. And at some point, facts matter, I hope. I certainly hope, and all the journalists here, we hope that facts matter at some point.
Maria Mendoza: Hello, my name is Maria Mendoza, and I’m a sophomore at the college studying government. You said that freedom of the press brought you to this country, and freedom of speech brought my parents from Cuba to this country, so that really resonated with me. But I actually wanted to ask you about your last answer to the person who was standing here, about the ideas of tolerance and unity. You mentioned that we might be fearful about some of the things that President Trump says, as Latinos, but shouldn’t we also be fearful of a lot of other Latinos, and a lot of the prejudice that plagues the Latino community? Because it’s not just outside of the Latino community that you see that sense of privilege because somebody has a blue passport and somebody doesn’t. The fact of the matter is a lot of Latinos did, in fact, vote for Trump, and not all of them were Cuban. So I was wondering what you think about how we can fix that big divide within the Latino community when it comes to privilege and documentation status.
Jorge Ramos: Ronald Reagan used to say that Latinos are really Republican, they just don’t know it. (Laughter) And if you think about it, when it comes to certain values and certain attitudes, Latinos tend to be more conservative. At some point, remember after the reelection of George W. Bush, he got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, and at that point many people, especially Republicans thought, “Well, this is a time when we’re going to be able to divide the Hispanic vote, and it’s going to be 50/50.” And then everything changed. But for me, it’s incredibly sad, and I face that reality almost every single day—when an immigrant, or the son of an immigrant, or the grandson of an immigrant decides to turn his back or her back to the immigrants who came after him. And we don’t have to look beyond Donald Trump. He’s the son of a Scottish mother. His grandfather was German. And he decides that it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen with those who came after him. Yes, there’s a lot of divide within the Hispanic community, in that sense. We’re not monolithic. We’re very, very different. And even definitions are complicated. Sometimes I don’t know who I am. I’m a Mexican American, Latino, Latin, and then, for me, it’s easy. Think of my son, Nicolas. I think he’s Puerto-Cuban Mexican American.
This is a country that is going to become more and more diverse, and we have to learn that that’s exactly how it’s going to be. Again, think of 2044. That’s the year when, again, it’s going to be a minority-majority country, and we better get used to that. I think Donald Trump represents a resistance to the idea that there’s a demographic revolution, that I call the Latino revolution. And now it’s going from a Latino revolution to an Asian revolution, because more immigrants from China and India and Asia are coming to this country. So I think we better get used to that. I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be able to stop that, even with the changes that he’s proposing on immigration. And I think it is very healthy, as you’re saying, that we understand that the Latino community’s not monolithic, and I don’t think Ronald Reagan was precisely right, but we are not completely liberal, as many people are trying to portray us.
Angel: Hola. I’m going to say it in Spanish, and then in English, if that’s OK with everybody. [Spanish]. I go by Angel in English. I’m black and Latina, and I just asked him: As a black Latina woman, I don’t see myself in Spanish-speaking channels, and invisibilization of people is both a symptom and an exacerbator of racism. How does he think in this moment that we’re at, where we are having national conversations about racism all the time, that Donald Trump will make Latinos reflect about their own anti-black and racist sentiments?
Jorge Ramos: I think it’s an incredibly healthy conversation. Because how can we criticize Donald Trump for making racist statements against Mexicans, when within the Hispanic community, that happens a lot, and there’s a lot of racism within the Latino community, and in Latin America, and we don’t have that conversation? You’re absolutely right, that is happening. And what I’m seeing right now is that I’m very optimistic about the future of this country. I am. You might think, well, no, everything’s going wrong, and I don’t like the direction of the country, and look what’s happening in the White House, but I’m seeing the opposite. Not only that we’re having these conversations, that you are bringing this up, and everyone’s listening – that changing. But also the fact that on January 21st I was in Washington, and I saw hundreds of thousands of women, among them my daughter, saying no. I think the most important word in any language is no. Maybe we don’t know what we want, but we know exactly what we don’t want. I am very optimistic about seeing four judges who said no to Donald Trump. I am very optimistic that many of you who spoke with me before are saying no. Maybe you don’t know exactly what to do, because I know you stop me and say, “What can we do?” Well, there are many different things that we can actually do. But I am very, very optimistic. I see that one person or one group cannot change the future of this country, and I am incredibly optimistic, thanks to conversations like the one we’re having right now.
Francisco: Hi, Jorge. My name is Francisco. I’m also a Mexican immigrant. And my question is more specific to your career. So you’ve actually interviewed Fidel Castro. You’ve interviewed a lot of dictators. And I remember you coming earlier before, a couple years ago, and you said that when you interviewed him he actually flew you in a helicopter and took you to a remote place, and it was very scary for you—and I would be, too—In that instance, I probably would think if I asked the wrong questions this person might kill me. (Laughter) However, you’ve asked questions that are extremely tough, not only to dictators, to presidents of Mexico, that other people wouldn’t dare ask. So in those instances, how were you able to get the strength to ask those questions and to confront those people, compared to the person who is currently at the White House, who you can’t even go talk to, you can’t even have that conversation as you had with Fidel Castro, who would actually set up a meeting with you? And what would you recommend to journalists who are actually trying to get accountability from this person when you were trying to do that with previous dictators in Latin America?
Jorge Ramos: I always think two things: One, that if you don’t ask that question, no one else is going to do it. You cannot pass that question to anyone else. About being courageous, honestly, the really courageous journalists that I know—many of them are here—the really courageous journalists that I know are in Syria right now. They’re in places where we don’t even dare to travel. The really courageous journalists that I know live in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, or in Mexico City, or at the border with Mexico, dealing with drug traffickers, in small towns, reporting about what’s happening right now. And then, if I report about drug traffickers, I go back home every single night, I take a bike ride, I go to the supermarket, nothing happens to me. But if they do exactly the same thing, they get killed. So those are, for me, the really courageous journalists.
What I do is different. It is safer, and it was safer to talk to Fidel Castro. When I started asking him about the lack of democracy in Cuba, he just called a bodyguard and pushed me aside, and that’s it. I’m here. Nothing really happened. Or Donald Trump called a bodyguard, just as told, and threw me out of a press conference. Nothing happened. I went back home, and I’m safe. I’m in the United States. Nothing should happen to me here. But if I were to do the same thing in Venezuela, or even in Cuba, or in Syria, or maybe in a few little towns in El Salvador or Honduras, it would be a completely different story.
The one that you’re referring to was with Hugo Chavez, and Trump reminds me so much of Hugo Chavez. (Laughter) He does, he does. They can speak endlessly, and even though you don’t agree, you gotta watch, you know? It’s like you’ve got to watch every single word that he’s saying. I don’t know how you feel, but it’s been 39 days and I’m exhausted already. (Laughter) I’m completely exhausted, because I’ve been listening to every single word he says, and I said, “No, today I’m not going to hear anything,” and then I’m checking my—what is he saying… (Laughter) So I’m really, really exhausted. Hugo Chavez [had] this incredible capacity to improvise, and to talk with a language that the people understood. Also another comparison is the energy. I haven’t seen Trump tired yet, and we’ve known him for almost two years. How Hugo Chavez repeated the word “I” endlessly. I think we’re just getting used to that. And then, how Hugo Chavez mastered the art of skipping the media, talking directly to the people. And he understood the circumstances.
Hugo Chavez—I’ll tell you the anecdote real fast. I went to Caracas to have an interview with him, and then he told me, “Yes, but follow me. Let’s go to Guarumito.” I said, OK, Guarumito must be a neighborhood right here in Caracas. No, Guarumito was a small town close to the border of Colombia. So I had to take a plane. The plane almost fell because it had a lot of technical difficulties. (Laughter) I survived, fortunately. When we arrived to Guarumito, like three hours later, he had put two chairs in the middle of a basketball court. And he surrounded the basketball court with hundreds of his followers. This is Hugo Chavez. And every question that I ask was booed by the people around him. (Laughter) And every answer that he gave was applauded. So he was a master.
Oriana Fallaci used to say that every interview is war. Sometimes the interviewer wins, and sometimes the interviewee wins. But if you think of the interview as a war—not an interview when you have to get information, but an interview with the powerful—you have to think that you will never see that person again, and that you’re the last person, and the only one who can ask that question. If you are not thinking of access, if you are not thinking that you have to interview that person again, then it becomes really war, and sometimes the interviewee wins, sometimes the interviewer, and in this case Hugo Chavez, I guess he won all the interviews with me. (Laughter)
From the audience: Hi, good evening. Thank you, Jorge. I have a quick reflection and a question. I’m also from Mexico, and I look up to you in that I also moved here from, in my case, from Ciudad Juárez, from the border, in my mid-twenties, to come to grad school, and sold my car and all that. And I’ve made this my home. Fourteen years later, my two kids were born here, etc. Here’s my reflection: I am on a path to citizenship, and I’m fearful, because I’ve written a couple of articles about immigration and about the political narrative and the danger of single stories, specifically on what you’re describing, about immigration, about Muslims. I’m fearful, and every day I check my immigration status online, because I’m afraid that it’s not going to be granted.
Jorge Ramos: You better be. You better be fearful.
From the audience: Yes, exactly, because I’ve been critical. I’ve refrained from posting anything that may be critical on social media. I mean, I’m afraid that they’re watching me talking to you here.
Jorge Ramos: They are. (Laughter)
From the audience: My reflection is I cannot imagine how an undocumented immigrant will feel right now, and I think that is something very important for all of us to think about, because, as you described earlier, we have to put a human face to these millions of people. And when we talk 10 million people…Well, these are individuals, and these are families, and these are children, these are parents, and I think that is important to remind everybody. The question is: You mentioned Alexis de Tocqueville, who I love also, as an immigrant, and he also said that the greatness of America is not that it is the most enlightened country in the world, but it’s the ability of the country—and its citizens— to repair its own faults. You’ve alluded a little bit about that, and I would like, if you can explain, how we can repair our own faults? There’s a lot of amazing journalists here, I want to invite you to go to Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso—Amexica, as they call it, the border. It’s a wonderful place. We have a bad reputation. We’re not all bad hombres. (Laughter) And you should definitely talk about the border.
Jorge Ramos: Maybe it happens because I’m an immigrant, but I admire this country so much, because we can say things like this, and we don’t get killed, no? We’re both from Mexico, and if we were in certain areas in Mexico, we wouldn’t be able to say these [things] to the el alcalde, to the mayor of the small town. Again, the way that Tocqueville saw this condition of equality for everyone, framing the Declaration of Independence—it’s a cliché, but it’s so real. I think we have the opportunity in this country to confront Donald Trump, and it’s OK, and you won’t get killed for that. It is impossible for me to think that in this country we would see what has happened in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez, and now Nicolás Maduro, they control the Army, they changed the Constitution, they control the mass media, they control the judges, they control the Congress. I cannot imagine [in] this country, Donald Trump can control the Supreme Court, the Congress, mass media, the Constitution, change it to his own liking. That is impossible. That’s why I’m very optimistic about the change in this country.
Now, having said that, within the Latino community—and mostly it’s happening in Spanish—there’s a lot of fear, because Barack Obama was the deporter-in-chief, because he deported more immigrants than any other president in the history of the United States, two and a half million immigrants. He destroyed thousands of families. He hated that I reminded him of that, but that’s true. That’s what he did. But at least during his administration there was a pretense that mostly criminals were going to be deported, violent criminals. With Donald Trump right now, that’s not even the case. Two weeks ago, that changed with two memos from the Department of Homeland Security, and now, according to the LA Times, eight out of the 11 million immigrants in this country might be deported simply because the new definition of criminal is whoever crosses illegally the border. We have to remind everyone that undocumented immigrants are here because of us, because there are thousands of American companies hiring them, and millions of Americans, including each one of you, who benefit from their work. In other words, undocumented immigrants, they didn’t come here to go to Disneyland, they didn’t come here because they wanted to kill Americans. No, they came here just to work for us. They came here to make this a better country. And we have to remind everyone about it.
In Spanish, there’s a lot of miedo, there’s a lot of fear. We’ve become a country in which in the last two or three weeks I’ve interviewed two or three kids who have to come out on public TV to defend their parents. I thought it was the other way around. I mean, right now there are four and a half million U.S. kids who have at least one parent who is undocumented. And those kids—13, 14, 16—are talking to me and to the media, trying to defend their parents. Is that the country that we want to become? I don’t think so. For the documentary Hate Rising, that we produced before the election, at the end of the documentary I interviewed four or five kids, about 7-8 years old, each one. Unfortunately for them, their parents have forced them to watch me on TV every night, (Laughter) as has happened with many of you. Now, “Te tienes que ver las noticias.” “You’ve got to watch the news.” (Laughter) Those kids, they just want to play with their iPads and do stuff. They’ve got to watch the newscast. So when they saw me coming to do the interview, they said, “Oh, Superman came. (Laughter) Ramos came. He knows everything. He can help me. He’s so powerful. He’s on TV.” That’s fine. So they were talking to me, and at the end they were asking me—that was before the election—“Is everything going to be OK?” And I couldn’t say yes. I couldn’t. And that’s where we are right now. That’s what’s happening, you know? That’s what’s happening.
Daren Garcia: Hi, Mr. Ramos. My name is Daren Garcia, and I’m a junior at the college. I’m the son of a single mother who’s formerly undocumented. I’ve seen the amount of abuse that she would face, just for being an undocumented immigrant, especially living along the U.S.–Mexico border, in Texas. And my question to you is, given that there’s a high level of ignorance—even within the Latinx community—what message do you have for those members in the Latinx community who buy into all these myths and stereotypes that exist about undocumented immigrants?
Jorge Ramos: Yeah, first of all, we’re not killing people. We are not criminals, and we’re not gang members, and we’re not drug dealers. I mean, this is the most influential academic institution in the world, and you have the numbers. According to the American Immigration Council, only 1.6 percent of young immigrants, ages 18-39, only 1.6 percent end up in jail. So the vast majority of immigrants are not criminals. Not only that—you might not want to hear this—but Americans tend to be much more criminal than immigrants. Immigrants are less likely to be criminals, again, because they don’t want to get in trouble with the police, among many other reasons. So the first myth is that immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, are criminals. That is not true. It’s as false as if I were to blame all white non-Hispanics for what happened in 2012 in Sandy Hook Elementary, and criticized all white non-Hispanics for what Adam Lanza did in killing 20 kids and six adults. Should we criticize all of them for what one person did?
I am honestly very sorry for the families who’ve lost a member because an undocumented immigrant committed a crime. I am. I really am. That shouldn’t be the case. I spoke with one father who lost his son to an undocumented immigrant. That should not be the case. But let me say it again: The vast majority of immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, are not criminals. Many of them, they use false Social Security numbers—yes, they do that—and false drivers’ licenses. Yes, they do that. I’m not condoning that, but that’s the way it is. That’s how the system works. You want them to work for you, they make up those numbers. But the first myth is that they are criminals, and they are not. Every time Donald Trump says that, we’ve got to stop him and say, “No, Mr. Trump, what you’re saying is a lie. That’s fake news.”
What Donald Trump is saying about undocumented immigrants is fake news. He is the king of fake news when it comes to undocumented immigrants, and that will be the headline, and that’s fine. (Laughter; Applause) But, and the second myth is that it is incredibly costly for the U.S. to maintain and to pay for undocumented immigrants. And what you hear all the time is, “Well, we’ve got to help them, they’re very poor. We’ve got to help them with coupons. We’ve got to help them with education for their kids. We are paying for them.” And people forget that at the end immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, they do contribute a lot. They pay a lot of taxes. They contribute to Social Security without being able to use it. And at the end, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there’s an immigration surplus. If you add what they contribute to the economy, and take out all the costs, all the expenses, at the end, every year there’s at least $2 billion in contributions from immigrants to this country. It’s a great business. So if they tell you it’s very costly, you can tell them that’s fake news, check the National Academy of Sciences. And that’s it.
Flavia Cuervo: Hi. My name is Flavia Cuervo, and I’m a junior studying economics here at the college, also a Cuban immigrant. And my question is more broadly about journalism and the role of journalists currently. You mentioned that, as a journalist, especially in this moment in time, people have to be willing to stand up to power. I wonder what you think about people who say that journalists should not be activists, and where do you see that line being drawn, and how do you speak about wrongdoings without crossing over into being an activist for a certain cause, and then therefore, being biased in some sort of way?
Jorge Ramos: I think it’s a great conversation, especially for us as journalists. I have been criticized—people say, “You’re an activist. You’re not a journalist.” My answer is that I’m a journalist. I’m just asking questions. I think that in journalism—and this is a big debate—I believe completely in objectivity. Again, if it’s red, I’ll say it’s red. If six people died, I’ll say that. But I’m not a journalist just to be a tape recorder. Well, nobody uses tape recorders, but just to use a cellphone, you know? (Laughter) I don’t want to be a cellphone. I refuse to be a cellphone, even if you can take selfies. I think that as journalists, the first basic operation is to report reality as it is, and I have that responsibility to do that, and every single night for 30 years—it was my 30th anniversary just a few months ago—for 30 years I reported, I tried to report reality as it is in the newscasts. I never give my opinion as an anchorman giving the news.
But I’m much more than just an anchorman. I’m much more than just someone reporting the news. At some point, we have also a social responsibility that goes beyond the basics, and that is when it comes to certain issues. If we don’t stand up, if we don’t take a stand, then who’s going to do that? I think the best examples that we have of great journalism in this country, with Watergate, with Edward R. Murrow, with Walter Cronkite in the Vietnam era, with The Boston Globe and the crisis in the Catholic Church, the greatest examples of journalism that we have are when journalists take a stand, when journalists say no to power, when journalists confront those who are in power. So if they want to say that we are activists, simply because we are attacking the government, or the Catholic Church, or President Nixon, or the bad decisions during the Vietnam era, then it’s fine, but our responsibility is beyond just being a cellphone. I think we have to take a stand.
I can’t think of myself just as reporting the news and that’s it. I think the audience is incredibly sophisticated. They know that I have points of view. They know that I have opinions. They know that if I tell them this is an editorial piece, or this is a column, this is a commentary, or when I’m talking on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, it’s my opinion, I think it’s fine, and they should expect from me professionalism when I’m reporting the news as just news. As long as you are honest and transparent with your audience, with the readers, I think you’re fine, and people appreciate that. I think they do. But, again, the most important social responsibility that we have is to confront those who are in power. Again, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? Thank you. (Applause)
Nicco Mele: Thank you very much.
Jorge Ramos: Thank you. Thank you.