Little did I know that a simple Facebook message from my friend Bob Quasius of Cafe con Leche Republicans would cause the head of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) to issue an apology for how NAHJ handled a very embarrassing and unprofessional situation.
Yet that is exactly what happened when GOP strategist Hector Barajas expressed his raw displeasure on Twitter after showing up to NAHJ’s conference in Anaheim this past weekend to be part of a Latino voter panel. NAHJ had invited him, but when Barajas showed up to the panel, he was no longer on the panel. The reason, according to Barajas, was that California State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, a Democrat, had specifically asked that Barajas not be part of the panel.
From what I understand, Pérez and Barajas are not political friends, and there is a history of animosity.
That news led to a story in the The San Francisco Chronicle where Pérez was accused of “political bullying.” Right after that, Latino Rebels ran a story and reached out to NAHJ president Hugo Balta for comment. By Tuesday afternoon, Balta posted a Facebook statement, and now the story is becoming the “inside baseball” talk of Latino media.
In the statement, Balta admitted that mistakes were made and that as head of NAHJ, he is fully accountable for what appeared to be a decision made by someone in NAHJ who was being pressured by a politician. In a phone call I had with Balta before the statement was published, I was impressed by his candor and professionalism. He knows NAHJ goofed and he admitted that it was an important lesson to learn. On the contrary, nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette reported a more testy and abrupt conversation he had with Balta (Balta responded to that). Still, Balta admitted his organization’s errors, and as a journalist (and a new member of NAHJ), I appreciate it.
Balta’s response gave me a bit more hope about NAHJ, which quite frankly, has had serious issues in the past. For example, the group was slammed last year for inviting Tequila Party (worst name ever) founder Dee Dee Garcia Blase to an event where she was credited for being the key player in the recall vote of Arizona senator Russell Pearce. That incident was ugly, and so were the responses, and it didn’t help that Garcia Blase personally attacked me for the Latino Rebels report of the story. (Yes, I wrote that article.)
So, yes, I do think Balta and NAHJ, although not innocent in this story, did the right thing by responding quickly to the incident, but the bigger issue goes beyond just them.
As a Latino professional, I am done with the whole small-minded mentality we continue to promote when Latinos with different political beliefs come together and share their views. If Pérez, an elected official, didn’t like that his political enemy was on the panel, tough. Are we at a point now where we can’t even have discussions from different perspectives because we don’t like each other? What message does that send out to the community?
Pérez’s excuse was that the panel was just for elected officials, but when Voto Latino’s María Theresa Kumar and activist Eva Longoria were also on the panel (not elected officials), all bets are off. Balta’s statement also did not address this fact, but he later tried to explain it on Facebook. Barajas should have been on that panel, and NAHJ should have told Pérez to chill out. That didn’t happen, and to have that decision come from an organization of journalists was unacceptable.
Yet I always believe in lessons learned from mistakes. I have made them. You have made them. We have all made them. It is how we respond to those mistakes that counts. I believe that Balta did the right thing in responding, and I also believe that NAHJ might become a better organization because of it. I also believe that those people reminding him that part of his statement overlooked that both Kumar and Longoria were on the panel was the right thing to do, too.
I leave you with this: everyone in Latino media knows that Navarrette and myself don’t always see eye to eye, but if we were on a media panel together, I am not going to cry to the organizers and refuse to participate. Different points of view add to a healthier debate, and are what makes the Latino community so unique. We should be doing more of that. In the end, having a difference of opinion doesn’t mean that we personally don’t like someone. Yes, there are people in this world who don’t like me and don’t agree with me. That doesn’t mean that I would ever deny them their right to voice their opinion.
Therein lies one of the biggest problems in the Latino community today: we don’t celebrate difference of opinion. NAHJ has a great opportunity to be the center of such a celebration. After this fiasco, I have no doubt that they now understand that.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. In the past 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.