by Magaly Morales / Sun Sentinel, Florida June 20, 2001
Two things become clear as you read Jorge Ramos’ latest book, A la Caza del León (Hunting the Lion, Editorial Grijalbo $13.95) The Univisión news anchor is deeply impassioned about both journalism and politics.
In his fourth book, Ramos chronicles his quests for interviews with controversial Latin American leaders, recounts the last national elections from an immigrant’s perspective, and gives
insight into his deep-rooted nationalistic sentiments.
Ramos, an Emmy-winning veteran who has been repeatedly recognized as the most trusted and influential newsman in Spanish-language television, began writing in 1995 mostly out of frustration.
“You can’t explain a war in two minutes; you can’t dissect in a
two-minute news segment the personalities of [George] Bush or [Al] Gore,” he said. “That’s why I started writing, I had things clogged in my throat for too long.”
Ramos, 43, started working as a radio and TV journalist in his native Mexico. He moved to the United States in 1993 and attended UCLA. In 1984, Ramos landed his first reporting job at a Univisión affiliate in Los Angeles, and since 1986 he has co-anchored the national evening news with Maria Elena Salinas.
Journalism today is very different from what it was when he started 20 years ago.
“To begin with, any TV journalist who tells you that he isn’t worrying about ratings is lying,” he said. “We are as preoccupied with it as much as we are about content.”
But ratings should be the least of Ramos’ worries. He consistently beats his competition (including English-language networks) in every key Latin market.
“More than half of the news on Spanish TV comes from Latin America, that’s what makes us different,” he said. “We cover immigrants in depth and we obviously know our audience better than any English-language station.”
When asked whether he would consider a job at an English-language network, Ramos is emphatic.
“Not now. First, I don’t think I could cover the issues I can cover here, and I would have to compete with Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather over exclusive interviews,” he said. “In a Spanish-language network, I don’t have to.”
True. Ramos obtained George W. Bush’s first televised interview after his victory.
Ramos said it is not necessarily the most intelligent reporter who succeeds in journalism, but the most persistent. He said a journalist becomes a kind of hunter, and that’s the reason behind the title of his book.
“The phrase belongs to [Colombian author] Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” said Ramos. “Marquez said we all have a lion to hunt. His was literature; for a journalist, the lion is the exclusive interview.”
In October, Ramos caged his most elusive lion. After six years of pursuit, he obtained an interview with Mexico’s ex-president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, in which Ramos cornered him with tough questions about alleged corruption in his presidency.
“I have the bad fortune, or good reputation, depending on your view, that rarely can I interview the same person twice,” Ramos says.
But in reality, he adds, his good fortune lies in the fact he works in a country where free speech is protected. He is able to go another country, put its leaders on the spot, ask the hardest questions, be irreverent if he wants to, and then return home the next day.
Ramos says had he remained in Mexico, or gone to live to another Latin American country, most probably he would have lost his job or even his life.
That’s why his book is dedicated in part to Colombian journalists. “It hurts me that I can go to work, do my interviews, present the newscast and then go home that evening; and a Colombian journalist who does exactly the same thing gets murdered at the end of the day.”
And although Ramos thinks he has a “trench” in Miami, he isn’t always immune to violence. After an interview with President Ernesto Samper in Colombia, he received two death threats and had to flee the country. Recently, when he tried to return to Colombia, Ramos received a funeral wreath with his name on it.
“Power is something that always caught my interest, because of its abuses, its excesses and the enormous power it has to do something positive,” he said. “I have been a witness of those powers for 20 years, and I started to feel I want to do more than just observe.”
Ramos signed a contract with HarperCollins to publish two books in English. First will be the translation of his third book, La Otra Cara de América (The Other Face of America), which will be available in January. Next is an autobiography planned for the fall of 2002.