(In an ongoing miscarriage of justice that defies reason, Dallas-based Latina reporter, and my friend, Rebecca Aguilar is starting the new year still under suspension from her FOX News station. Her crime? Doing her job. The following is a column I wrote distributed by Hispanic Link through Scripps News Service.)
There was nothing extraordinary about the news footage showing a neatly dressed female reporter, umbrella in one hand, microphone in the other, calmly standing between the open car door and the unseen driver behind the wheel in the middle of a sporting goods store parking lot.
FOX News reporter Rebecca Aguilar
In fact, if the sound had been muted, you would have wondered what was so newsworthy about it. There was no mad chase or a microphone thrust in a face or even the subject trying to slam the door shut to get away from the reporter.
The reporter was just doing her job: asking hard questions of a man who, in separate incidents in the span of just three weeks, had killed two people who were burglarizing his machine shop and welding business, which also happened to be his home.
The reason why the reporter was questioning the man now was because he had called her to tell her that he was buying a new gun to replace the one the police took away from him after he killed the second intruder.
Because of that infamous interview, the reporter, a 26-year, award-winning industry veteran, received an indefinite suspension from her station.
What was the big deal?
The big deal was that the man was 70 years old.
The old showbiz adage: Never work with animals and small children evidently extends to senior citizens, too. That's the only rational explanation for the initial torrent of public hostility that rained down on Dallas-based, Fox News affiliate reporter, my friend Rebecca Aguilar.
Dallas viewers, bloggers and media critics swarmed in vilifying Aguilar for the interview when it first aired. They have taken her questions out of context to paint her as a cold-hearted journalist.
They have been especially quick to focus criticism on Aguilar for asking this two-time shooter: "Are you a trigger-happy kind of person? Is that what you wanted to do, shoot to kill?"
They conveniently disregard how she balanced her hard line of questioning by following it with the sympathetic: "So basically you were scared for your life?"
The last thing Aguilar expected after such a routine interview was that her professional career would be at risk
It has been more than two months since Aguilar was suspended from KDFW TV. At first, only Aguilar was disciplined but when red flags were thrown by her supporters as to why she was singled out from a team of superiors who authorized the story for broadcast, other reprimands were dished out -- two weeks later. The managing editor for that segment received a 3-day suspension, while the editor was suspended for two days and the cameraman got a write-up that went into his file. They all went back to work, or never left, except Aguilar.
The question needs to be asked. Why?
Media analysts, fellow industry colleagues and even the online site of the eminent journalism school, the Poynter Institute, have all chimed in with their analyses of Aguilar's interview and their disbelief at her station's extreme disciplinary measure.
All agree that the interview was "very even-handed," and she treated the subject with "respect."
In a Poynter Online interview with Forrest Carr, news director at WFTX-TV in Cape Coral, Fla., and a 2002 Poynter Ethics Fellow, said, "My thoughts are that her conduct toward the shooter was not as her critics described it. Her words were polite. Her demeanor was professional. Her questions, which set off the critics, were for the most part appropriate."
So, why all this continued hostility?
It might have something to do with the fact that the shooter is white.
A quick scan of the latest comments and blog entries show that what started out as the public's knee-jerk reaction to a routine story that had a sympathetic perpetrator has evolved into the latest example of a backlash against Hispanics stemming from the emotional immigration debate gripping the country.
Comments such as, "They should check this Mexican reporter's green card. She is most certain an illegal." or "I say send this guy down to our border to help out with national security. Maybe if he was there we wouldn't have to put up with unbelievable people like Rebecca Aguilar," are indicative of what is transpiring in this country and fueling a story that ceased being newsworthy a long time ago.
It's one thing for Aguilar's station to listen and respond to its viewers' wishes, but her continued suspension only endorses a racially charged extremist viewpoint and trivializes the career of an individual who was honored just last year as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' "Broadcast Journalist of the Year."
At this writing, both sides have hired lawyers.
In the meantime, Aguilar is left to wonder what she did so wrong in this one interview, singled out from the thousands she conducted throughout her career, that has jeopardized her professional future.
It's a thought on the minds of a lot of us.