WASHINGTON - The board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has decided not to comment on CNN's firing of anchor Rick Sanchez, but former president Rafael Olmeda is contrasting the punishment meted out to Sanchez, one of the few Latino anchors on English-language network television, with that given former CNN host Lou Dobbs.
In the course of asserting a glass ceiling for Latino journalists at CNN, Sanchez went on to disparage late-night comedian Jon Stewart, who has made fun of Sanchez. He called Stewart a "bigot" with a privileged worldview — later changing the term to "uninformed" — and added, "I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.' "
He was fired on Friday.
Dobbs, the controversial CNN anchor whose opinions and purported "facts" on such social issues as immigration angered Latinos and others, resigned from the cable network in November 2009 only after months of protests from NAHJ, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others.
Comparing the Sanchez case with those involving Dobbs and radio hosts Don Imus, who is syndicated, and Brian Kilmeade of Fox, Olmeda wrote on his Facebook page Friday night, "Rick Sanchez' comments were unprofessional and unwise. Fireable? It's not like he referred to humans as being of another species. It's not like he sat in an anchor's chair for years and spread demonstrable falsehoods about the largest minority in America. People have kept their jobs at CNN and other networks after saying far worse for far longer. Not defending what he said. Just wondering when unwise words warrant swift termination and when they warrant an attack on politically correct thought police."
Olmeda, a writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who went from NAHJ leader to president of Unity: Journalists of Color, reiterated to Journal-isms Sunday night, "I am not defending what he said. Not in the slightest. It's just that in the past, when I've criticized dunderheaded comments made by other anchors, I've been on the receiving end of harsh criticism about what a thin-skinned, politically correct crybaby I am. I'm waiting for my critics to step forward and defend Rick Sanchez: not agreeing with him, but calling for the same patience they demand of me."
Journal-isms asked current NAHJ board members for their thoughts on the Sanchez firing.
"NAHJ isn't commenting on Rick Sanchez's firing. Nor am I," President Michele Salcedo said by e-mail on Sunday.
Asked to explain the decision not to comment, Salcedo did not reply.
Other board members followed suit, despite reassurances that their responses would not be reported as speaking for the organization.
"NAHJ has not made an official statement on this situation regarding Mr. Sanchez's employment status. I don't feel comfortable making a statement when the group has not done so first," said Gustavo Reveles Acosta of the El Paso Times, vice president for print.
[On Monday, Ada Alvarez, multimedia editor for Washington Hispanic and Spanish language at-large officer for NAHJ, said she was not speaking for the association but felt the firing was a pity. She said she wished the network would establish and explain the policies and methods used for "firing a person for comments and how they measure how 'bad they are.' . . . In my office we always see his show and I personally believe we can see his show and either agree or disagree that he is good, which I believe he is . . . I hope we get either him on board again (working) and we have someone that is a Sanchez with that type of show soon and that the music of 'ay Dios mio' from the show doesn't leave the network without diversity."]
Sanchez's comments about Jews and Stewart have received most of the media attention, not what preceded them.
"There is a sad, circular pattern to the bigotry that Sanchez obviously experienced and was scarred by, embittered to the point that even as a successful cable anchor, it escaped his lips one day and blew up his career," Melinda Henneberger, editor in chief of the Politics Daily web site, wrote on Saturday.
Sanchez anchors for CNN en Espanol, and on CNN hosted "Rick's List," which was drawing a small audience at 8 p.m., according to the latest Nielsen ratings. He was chosen to fill that slot afterCampbell Brown's departure in May. But he was passed over for the permanent spot, and CNN scheduled 'Parker Spitzer,' starring disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and syndicated Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker. It debuts on Monday.
In an interview Thursday on Pete Dominick's Sirius XM Radio show, Sanchez said that Fox News' business model is that "there are angry white guys out there; we need to program to them." But he said not just the right wing can be faulted. "I’ve known a lot of elite Northeast establishment liberals that may not use this as a business model, who deep down when they look at a guy like me they look at a— they see a guy automatically who belongs in the second tier and not the top tier."
Dominick: "Why do you say that? Give me an example — because you're Cuban-American . . ."
Sanchez: "I had a guy who works here at CNN who's a top brass come to me and say, 'You know what, I don't want you to —"
Dominick: "Will you wash this dish for me, Sanchez?"
Sanchez: "No, no, see that’s the thing; it’s more subtle. White folks usually don't see it. But we do — those of us who are minorities and women see it sometimes too from men in authority. Here, I’ll give you my example. It's this: 'You know what, I don't want you anchoring anymore, I really don't see you as an anchor, I see you more as a reporter, I see you more as a John Quiñones — you know the guy on ABC. That’s what he told me. He told me he saw me as John Quiñones. Now, did he not realize that he was telling me, 'When I see you I think of Hispanic reporters’? Cause in his mind I can’t be an anchor. An anchor is what you give the high-profile white guys, you know. So he knocks me down to that and compares me to that and it happens all the time. I think to a certain extent Jon Stewart and [Steve] Colbert are the same way. I think Jon Stewart’s a bigot. . . .
"I think he looks at the world through his mom who was a schoolteacher, and his dad who was a physicist or something like that. Great, I’m so happy that he grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything that you could ever imagine."
Dominick: "What group is he bigoted towards?"
Sanchez: "Everybody else who's not like him. Look at his show! What does he surround himself with?"
. . . "And, when you turn on a show or listen to someone’s writings and they minimize you and treat you like you don't matter, like you're just a piece of— you're just a dumb, like you're a dumb jock or a dumb woman or a dumb Puerto Rican or a dumb Cuban or another dumb Mexican, which is the way I feel whenever I watch Jon Stewart. . . ."
Marisa Guthrie added for Broadcasting & Cable:
"When Dominic suggested that Jews have endured similar societal prejudice, Sanchez scoffed.
" 'Yeah,' said Sanchez, sarcastically. 'Very powerless people… He’s such a minority … Please, what are you kidding? … I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.' "
He said that having grown up in Miami, he had friends who were Jews, and that unlike with Hispanics, "I can't see anybody not getting a job these days because they're Jewish." Thus, people like Stewart and Colbert don't share experiences such as his.
Dominic concluded the interview with, "I have a newfound respect for this guy. I don't necessarily agree. I think people will certainly sympathize with Rick's point of view."
Not so much.
Frances Martel, a Cuban-American writer, wrote on Mediaite, "For any member of a minority that has had received worse service at a business or been the object of near-silent discrimination in the workplace, his words resonated. For any Cuban-American who tried to get a job in New York in the 1970s or ’80s, the words rang true. And for someone in my shoes, who had heard all the horror stories from white bosses that came before from family friends and relatives, it was very easy to see where he was coming from.
"What didn’t ring true, however, was that he claimed this was all still happening, at a time when it appeared almost no one remembered (or cared to remember) Sanchez’s ethnic background unless they, too, shared it, and felt obligated to carry the burden of calling him one of our own."
She concluded, "As much as Sanchez’s hard work was a point of pride for those of us in the community who find a dearth of role models in this industry (and, due to numbers alone, in any industry), this incident has set his alleged cause of racial transcendence back beyond from where it was before he came on the scene to begin with."
Former ABC anchor Carole Simpson, who is African American, weighed in as part of a panel Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources."
"I think too many minorities fall back on the issue of race and ethnicity to explain all of their setbacks, which I don't think is true," she said. "I mean, I kind of thought of Rick as a blowhard, someone who was very full of himself. And I found him very amusing to watch on TV.
"But he thinks that he could have been better and bigger and all of these other things, and he wasn't because of his race, as being a Cuban-American. And then it tickles me, because he looks as white as any white man. I mean, without his name, you probably would not know he was Cuban."
The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education | 663 Thirteenth St., Suite 200, Oakland, CA 94612