NewsBusters answered: Why NAHJ stood up for a suspended Latina reporter

Why did NAHJ support Rebecca Aguilar? Because it was the right thing to do.

The Media Research Center is a right wing organization committed to exposing the liberal agenda in the mainstream press. In a recent column on their NewsBusters page, one of their writers makes reference to a comment I made regarding the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and its decision not to comment on the firing of Rick Sanchez from CNN.

I made the following comment during an appearance on NPR:

Well, my history with the organization [NAHJ] – I can answer it as if the question had been posed to me three years ago. And my answer would have been we tend not to weigh in on personnel matters. If an organization fires an employee, we try to stay out of that as much as possible. [Emphasis Newsbusters’] There – are there reasons that people would expect NAHJ to say something? Sure. But, you know, when it comes to a boss firing an employee, it takes a lot for us to jump in on that.

NewsBusters writer Tim Graham then notes, accurately:

Actually, three years ago, NAHJ president Olmeda was demanding Dallas Fox affiliate KDFW reinstate reporter Rebecca Aguilar after she accused a local man of being “trigger-happy” after he defended himself against an intruder. 

Read the full NewsBusters article here.

Call me simple, but I can’t find any way to leave a comment on the story [Note: this has since been corrected on the Newsbusterd site]. So I’ll expound on the matter here.

Why did I respond to the Rebecca Aguilar situation in 2007 and then say NAHJ tries not to get involved in personnel matters? I know Graham couldn’t be bothered with anything so complicated as, I don’t know, just calling me and asking me, but I do think it’s a fair question. So here’s the answer.

A few weeks before Rebecca Aguilar was suspended from her job at a Texas TV station, she was honored as NAHJ’s Broadcast Journalist of the Year. When she was accused of ambushing the subject of a story and accusing him of being trigger happy, her station suspended her… and no one else. There were calls for NAHJ to rescind the award.

I took a personal interest in what happened and determined that

  • the subject of the story told Aguilar where to find him, which eliminates the argument he was ambushed.
  • the subject of the story could easily have driven off, but instead granted Aguilar an interview.
  • Aguilar’s questions were not accusatory. Journalists know that some questions that sound accusatory are merely designed to provoke a response from the subject, and the subject rose to the occasion eloquently.
  • the television station found her report egregious enough to warrant suspension, but did not feel the same about anyone else involved in the story. In television news, it takes more than one person to put a story together. Aguilar was singled out for punishment.

So yes, based on the fact that she was singled out for punishment (later corrected when others were given token penalties), and based on the determination that the accusations of journalistic misconduct were unfair, and based on the obvious determination that our silence on the matter would be unacceptable considering the award we had just bestowed on Aguilar, I decided after consulting with the board that we needed to stand up for her.

And I’d do it again. I defended our position on the conservative Mike Gallagher radio program.

NAHJ isn’t going to weigh in on every firing of every Latino employee. And it shouldn’t. It’s not a union. NAHJ’s members expect to be treated fairly (which also means if we bad-mouth our bosses in public, we understand that we put our jobs on the line).

I said on NPR that it takes “a lot” for NAHJ to jump in on a personnel issue. Kudos to Tim Graham for finding an example when I did. Shame on him for not showing how the Aguilar gave us “a lot” of reasons to speak up.

I tried reaching Mr. Graham to explain this to him personally. My note to NewsBusters went unanswered. Mr. Graham, meanwhile, is free to comment here.

Note: I am not speaking for NAHJ. I do not know why they chose not to make a statement on the Rick Sanchez matter and I offer my thoughts only as speculation.

Published by Olmeda

At-large director on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists. Former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of UNITY: Journalists of Color. An extreme moderate, not committed to political ideology. Stepfather to two wonderful daughters. Father to two wonderful sons. Husband. Rogue karaoke singer. Humanist

6 thoughts on “NewsBusters answered: Why NAHJ stood up for a suspended Latina reporter

  1. NewsBusters is a right-wing nut job website. I wouldn’t worry about what they say. That they’re picking on you shows how pathetic they are.


  2. Thanks. I’m not worried about what they said. I just thought they raised a good question that deserved an answer. I gleefully provide it.


  3. NewsBusters was apparently in the middle of updating its site and had not gotten to the part of having people register to leave comments. That has since been updated, so I would be able to leave a comment there if I felt it necessary. I’ll think about it. It’s old news now.


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