SAN DIEGO — The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is getting good at producing embarrassing headlines.
Last year, at the NAHJ’s conference in Anaheim, Calif., the organization’s leaders rolled over and allowed one of the panelists — John Perez, then the Democratic speaker of the California Assembly — to exclude Republican political consultant Hector Barajas.
Last week, as the NAHJ met in San Antonio, 84-year-old Charlie Ericksen, one of the group’s co-founders, kicked up some dust when he said it was “kind of a farce” for the organization to honor Fox News with an NAHJ Media Award.
The group seemed impressed by the fact that the conservative network launched FoxNewsLatino.com a few years ago. Still, it certainly didn’t hurt that Fox News Channel and Fox News Latino sponsored the conference.
Hugo Balta, outgoing NAHJ president, apologized for Ericksen’s outburst to Fox News Vice President Francisco Cortes, who accepted the award.
“I want to personally apologize to you, Fox and the Fox family for what is ... unacceptable,” Balta said to Cortes from the stage. “I will not allow any of our guests to be singled out or be insulted in this way.”
Where was this chivalry last year when, during Balta’s reign, Barajas was barred from the panel?
Ericksen later said that what concerned him was the lack of Hispanics on air at networks such as Fox News, and the fact that the overall number of Hispanic journalists employed by media companies has declined in recent years.
He makes a good point. For all their talk about diversity, major newspapers, TV networks and online news sites have, in cutting back on staff, laid off many journalists of color. Still, Ericksen considers himself a leftist and so he’s also probably bothered by the fact that Fox News doesn’t share his slant.
As the veteran journalist bluntly told Richard Prince, editor of the industry-focused “Journal-isms” column produced by the Maynard Institute, while many other networks are just as bad at hiring and promoting Hispanics, “anyone who says positive things about Fox has cotton in the ears and blinders in the eye.”
Right again. It’s hard for anyone — well, anyone except NAHJ, it seems — to celebrate the creation of Fox News Latino, which is an online barrio for Latino writers, most of whom will never be invited to share their views on the network’s TV shows.
Meanwhile, listen to what the on-air hosts at Fox News are saying about Hispanics and issues that concern them.
Bill O’Reilly thinks all those hardworking Hispanics are only here for the freebies. Leading up to the 2012 election, O’Reilly made the following observation: “The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel this economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President (Barack) Obama. ... People feel that they are entitled to things.”
Sean Hannity was against “amnesty” before he was in favor of it, and now he’s back to being against. Hannity told viewers after the 2012 election that he had “evolved.” His answer: “I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here — you don’t say you’ve got to go home.”
Now Hannity wants them to go home, recently telling House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that Americans need to “control the borders, meaning that’s it, no amnesty.”
Megyn Kelly treads lightly on the subject of ethnicity, except when she doesn’t. In April, she announced that she wouldn’t name the culprit in a deadly shooting spree that had occurred a few days earlier at the Fort Hood military base near Killeen, Texas. But a few minutes later, she teased her audience by saying: “The nationality of the shooter ... it sounds Hispanic, Latino, but you can look up his name online.”
Ericksen may be right about Fox after all. But he’s also right to use the word “farce” to describe the process by which NAHJ hands out its awards. In fact, he should have gone further and applied that label to the entire organization.
Because of its corporate subservience, knack for public relations and coziness with elected officials and the same media companies over which it is supposed to be a watchdog, the NAHJ has gone from a valued institution to a vaudeville act.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.