UCLA Medal Presentation to Jorge RamosSpeech
Good evening. Today, I am very honored to be awarding the UCLA Medal to Jorge Ramos.
As the leader of any large public agency or institution can attest, when a reporter calls wanting to speak with you, it’s natural to feel a little… concerned.
After all, journalists don’t usually contact public officials because they want to talk about something great we’re doing — sometimes they do… and we love that! — but more often it’s because something has gone wrong.
Journalists, of course, do not exist to serve people in positions of power. Journalists exist to serve the public. And that’s really as it should be. Because journalists, more than anyone else in our society, have the critical role of holding leaders and their institutions accountable. This means that journalists have a very difficult job. They need to search for information that is not always readily available, and even hidden at times.
They need to convince people who do not always want to talk to them, to speak with them — and let it be broadcast or printed. Sometimes, journalists are even mistreated by those in power, as today’s honoree knows all too well.
That’s why a great journalist needs to be smart, persistent, resourceful, convincing and — above all — skeptical.
There’s a line, I’m told, that older journalists sometimes use to drive this point home to younger, “cub reporters:” If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!
A bit of hyperbole there, to be sure, but skepticism is an important quality for journalists, since we cannot always trust those in power to tell us the truth. Politicians have often spun the facts and concealed certain details, but what we have seen in recent years is very troubling.
Today, in fact, we rely on journalists more than ever. And it’s up to all of us to recognize and support the critical role they play in our democracy. Journalism and academia really are kindred spirits in that we both are dedicated to honestly searching for and sharing reliable facts.
This is why UCLA is so grateful for journalists like Jorge Ramos.
Mr. Ramos has assumed a particularly unique and important role in journalism today.
For more than 30 years, he has been an anchor of “Noticiero Univision,” the most-watched Spanish-language network newscast in the U.S. He also hosts “Al Punto,” a weekly Univision program that analyzes the week’s top stories, and an English-language show for the Fusion network.
He is also the recipient of 10 Emmy awards, as well as the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in political journalism. In 2015, he was featured on a cover of Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and organizations like the Pew Hispanic Center have identified Mr. Ramos as one of the most recognized Latino leaders in the nation.
He is the author of 13 books — including his most recent: Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era — and a weekly syndicated column in 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America.
He has interviewed every president since George H.W. Bush — including our current president, while still a candidate, during a noble and notable effort that caused him to be removed from a press conference in 2015.
But Jorge Ramos is more than a great journalist who happens to read and report the news to a largely Spanish-speaking audience. He is also a fierce advocate for Latino immigrants.
There are some who argue that journalists cannot be advocates — that advocating for any cause or group compromises a reporter’s objectivity. But history shows that some of our nation’s most influential journalists have had an impact precisely because they were not afraid to take a stand in times of crisis — from Edward R. Murrow’s denunciation of McCarthyism to Walter Cronkite’s refusal to accept the government’s lies about the Vietnam War.
Mr. Ramos also recognizes that he has become an important voice for many immigrants:
“I am an immigrant with a microphone,” he writes in his latest book. “Part of my job is to give a voice to those who are not fortunate enough to be able to speak in front of a camera.”
Born in Mexico City, Mr. Ramos studied communications and got one of his first jobs at a Mexican radio station. He got his first big break in 1981, when the news came of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of President Reagan.
Even though he had little experience, he was the only one at the station who spoke English and also had a passport and visa. So, he went to Washington to cover the story.
Shortly after he returned to Mexico, Mr. Ramos got a job on a television newscast. In his third report for the program, he criticized the president of Mexico. His boss, who was sensitive to the president’s ability to censor stories, ordered Mr. Ramos to change the story. He refused. Another reporter rewrote the story. And Mr. Ramos resigned.
He then sold his Volkswagen and bought a one-way ticket here to Los Angeles, where a student visa brought him to a one-year extension course on television and journalism at UCLA.
While a student, Mr. Ramos lived in a pink house near campus with people from Ghana, Iran and Pakistan — an experience he calls his first big lesson about the value of diversity in the United States. The group bonded together and roughed it a bit. With no access to a kitchen, they warmed their meals on hot plates in the closet! Eventually, he landed his first reporting job here, working for KMEX-TV in Los Angeles. The rest is history.
Before I close, there’s a beautiful passage in Mr. Ramos’ latest book that I’d like to share — I think it really sums up how he approaches his work:
“Part of my job is to take a critical and independent look at what isn’t working or what’s harming any given nation on earth. It can be difficult to understand, but often it’s a true labor of love when you do what you can to improve the place where you live. You critique the things that really matter to you, the things that you love about it. It’s not a betrayal or a lack of solidarity. It’s my job, and it’s my country.”
Journalists often describe their job as shining light into the dark places, exposing what’s hidden and illuminating important things for the benefit of the public. I think that’s a very powerful and wonderful way to describe the importance of journalism — shining light into the dark places. And, of course, it’s especially fitting that the motto of this university is “Fiat Lux” — “let there be light.”
So, please welcome to the stage, Jorge Ramos!
Before we present you with the Medal, I’d like everyone to hear this citation, which reads:
As one of America’s leading journalists, you have established yourself as a critical voice and source of information for millions here and abroad who rely on your reporting to make informed decisions about their lives. Recognizing that too often many people in our society go unheard, you have worked tirelessly to provide a voice for the voiceless. Your willingness to question those in power and seek out facts beyond the rhetoric of politics makes you an essential advocate for the Latino community and beyond. For your fearless dedication to covering issues vital to our democracy, for your respect for your audience and for your deep conviction that they deserve the truth, we proudly bestow upon you the UCLA Medal.