My parents, who immigrated from Mexico in 1985 and 1996, respectively, weren’t so sure when I told them I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. “How about being a car mechanic?” they suggested gently. That is, until I informed them I was interviewing for an internship at Univision in Miami, where Jorge Ramos worked.
“Echale ganas,” they began to tell me. “Keep putting the effort.”
I didn’t get the job, but the fact remains that Univision is the news for my parents — sorry, NPR — and for millions of Latinos in the U.S. Launched in 1962, the New York-based network has beat out all the major television networks — English- and Spanish-language — among younger prime-time viewers.
That’s why the silver-haired Ramos, whose Noticiero Univision nightly newscast averages about a million viewers, is poised to have a big role in the 2016 presidential elections. He’s been called the Walter Cronkite of Latino America, and the New York Times is on it in a great profile that it recently published about Ramos:
“Remember what L.B.J. said, ‘When you lose Walter Cronkite, you’ve lost the war’?” said Matthew Dowd, a campaign adviser to George W. Bush, recalling the oft-cited if disputed story that President Lyndon B. Johnson said he lost “middle America” when Cronkite turned against the Vietnam War. Among Latino voters, Mr. Ramos has the sort of influence and audience that Cronkite had more broadly among Americans in his day.
Mr. Ramos is “not only a journalist, he’s become the voice of the Latino constituency,” Mr. Dowd said. “And that’s where Republicans have to worry — you don’t want to lose Jorge Ramos.”
Ramos, who also writes a regular column in Reforma, the prominent right-leaning Mexican newspaper, has for years criticized Obama for not living up to his 2008 campaign promise to reform the immigrant system by the end of his first year — which the president made on Ramos’ show. But increasingly, he has turned his sights on Republicans.
In 2013, Ramos relentlessly questioned Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about the government shutdown and his stance on immigration reform on his program, America with Jorge Ramos. “Your father became a citizen in 2005,” Ramos said. “Why don’t you give other immigrants the same possibility, the same opportunity your father had?”
And in 2012, at a Q&A session that aired on his Sunday show, Al Punto, he asked then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney this: “You said that God created the United States to lead the world. … With all due respect, how do you know that?”
He has sparred with Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio about making inmates wear pink underwear, and arranged chats about immigrant labor in restaurant kitchens with Anthony Bourdain. In a broadcast last summer, he took off his white Converse shoes, strapped a GoPro camera on and famously swam across the Rio Grande at the border to show the dangers young migrants face when crossing.
Ramos immigrated from Mexico on a student visa in 1983, and settled in Los Angeles. In 2008, at the age of 50, he became a U.S. citizen. Ramos did stints as a host on Telemundo and ESPN Deportes, and was just 28 when he cemented his role as news anchor for Univision.
Ramos built a reputation with his against-the-grain interviews of controversial Latin American leaders like former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Jose Mujica of Uruguay. In 2011, he pointedly asked Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto about his finances and the mysterious death of his first wife. Conservative blogger Matt Drudge has called Ramos “the last journalist standing.”
His potential as a political influence may have been magnified after the Republican National Committee omitted Univision from the list of networks selected to host a primary debate, a move that a USA Today editorial called a cop-out: “The RNC decision to exclude Univision is misguided. In their desire to avoid facing questions on the issue of immigration, Republicans are choosing to avoid a potentially huge Latino audience.”
Perhaps the party is really choosing to avoid Ramos.
It remains to be seen how else Republicans could reach out to Latino voters, but in the months before the 2016 elections, Ramos will surely be there asking pointed questions — in English and Spanish — at every step. He told the Times: “The new rule in American politics is that no one can make it to the White House without the Hispanic vote. So we still expect all candidates from both parties to talk to us.”
Check out the rest of the Times piece for more on how Republicans view Ramos, and an earlier piece by Time magazine about whether a run for office might be in the cards for Ramos himself.