February 27, 2019


The Interrogator: Jorge Ramos' tense confrontation with Nicolás Maduro should come as no surprise. He's spent his career getting under the skin of the powerful. (LEÓN KRAUZE, FEB 27, 2019, Slate)

Jorge Ramos spent the past few days running through the list of questions he had prepared for Nicolás Maduro, the leader who has sunk Venezuela into an abyss of unprecedented proportions. Ramos, Univision's main news anchor for more than 30 years, was particularly focused on his first query, which would set the tone for the interview. He knew he had to put Maduro on the defensive to contain the Venezuelan strongman's penchant for long-winded, empty rhetoric. "I wanted him to face a dilemma," Ramos told me over the phone from Miami. He asked Maduro whether he should refer to him as Venezuela's president or merely as a dictator, "which is what millions of people think of him." It proved to be a brilliant journalistic choice.

Confronted with the growing assertions of his illegitimacy, Maduro grew irritable. The interview had run for 17 tense minutes when Ramos took out an iPad and showed Maduro a video he had shot hours before of a group of hungry Venezuelan men digging through trash in search of food scraps. "He couldn't go on," Ramos recalls. "He broke down and stopped the interview." Maduro then "stupidly" tried to cover Ramos' iPad and finally stood up and left, fuming, leaving Ramos behind.

Ramos would soon learn just how acutely he had gotten under Maduro's skin. Venezuelan security forces detained the anchor and his team, and confiscated all four Univision cameras and every memory card on which the interview had been recorded. They seized the crew's personal belongings and even forced Ramos to surrender his personal phone. For a while, Ramos and his producer were held in a dark room, where they were searched. Twenty-four hours later, Maduro's government summarily deported the group. By then, word of Maduro's despotic reaction had spread to every news outlet in the world.

Those unfamiliar with Jorge Ramos' interviewing style might have been shocked by the incident. I wasn't. As a colleague of his (I have worked with him for eight years at Univision), Ramos' courageous and astute journalistic provocation of the Venezuelan leader comes as no surprise. Maduro's reaction is just another notch on Ramos' belt, one more remarkable episode on a long list of historic clashes in the three decades since he took over Univision's network newscast.

A firm believer in confrontational journalism, Ramos has chosen the interview as his weapon of choice. His style is not without its critics. He has been accused of being an activist in the guise of a journalist. It's a claim Ramos doesn't shy away from. Especially in the age of Trump, he does not believe in detachment, so much so that his brand of forceful journalism has become a personal banner of sorts. "When it comes to racism, dictatorship and human rights, we cannot remain neutral, we have to take a stand," reads his Twitter cover picture. What makes Ramos unique, though, is that his appetite for confrontation is almost universal. He is a relentless interrogator of power, no matter who wields it.

Posted by at February 27, 2019 6:26 PM