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Tuning back in to cable news’ Rick Sanchez

December 15, 2018

After some close calls, Rick Sanchez is ready for his comeback.

Not surprisingly, the newsman’s return to the airwaves is not without controversy. Who would have thought that the son of Adela and Paco — Cuban refugees who came to the United States in 1960 fleeing communism — would wind up working for a global cable television network funded by the Russian government?

The road from Havana to Miami to the Washington bureau of RT America makes for one heck of a story. And I was glad that my friend of more than a dozen years shared it with me.

When we last tuned in, CNN — which has often, because of its shortage of Hispanics both on staff and on air, seemed to specialize in black-and-white television — had come up with a strange way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

In October 2010, it wastefully fired the most prominent Latino journalist on television because of something he said.

Yet other TV talkers have said dumb things and lived to offend again. See: Bill Maher, Joy Behar, Tucker Carlson, etc.

I asked Sanchez about the double standard.

“It used to make me mad, then I got over it,” he told me. “The universe has a way of making things right if you don’t stew.”

Supposedly, Sanchez was let go because, during a radio interview, he made light of the claim that Jews were an oppressed minority given their strong presence in media and entertainment.

I suspect the real reason was because, in the same interview, he implied that a senior executive at CNN didn’t think he could anchor because of his ethnicity.

To liberals who bristle at being called racist, that probably sounded ungrateful. To Latinos, it sounded like honesty.

Out of work, Sanchez moved back to his hometown of Miami. There, he hustled to support his family by cobbling together jobs in television and radio. Then he did something totally different: He helped start what became a multimillion-dollar health care company.

Now he’s back in front of the camera. With a new financial independence and the confidence that comes from not caring if you fail, he hosts a nightly newscast for RT America. And while Sanchez was always good — watchable, relatable, plain-spoken — he is now even better. Comfortable in his own skin, he approaches every segment like someone who understands that fame doesn’t last.

I asked what he learned from his wild ride.

“My own value,” he said. “Nothing beats a proper assessment of what we do and don’t do well. And we learn it best when our backs are up against the wall, when we have to scrape and battle to try and remake ourselves.”

These days, Sanchez seems primed for battle.

Ask about “fake news,” and he’ll say: “It’s a stupid, overused phrase that means nothing. It’s a bludgeoning tool used by morons to mean ‘I don’t like what you said.’”

Ask him whether his new show is news or opinion, and he’ll fire back with: “All news is both. Anyone who says different is a liar or a robot.”

Ask for his recipe for good TV, and you get: “Be fair and understand that nobody is better than you — just like you’re not better than anyone else.”

It turns out that, to be good in media, it helps to spend time out of media. While television can make you famous, it can also make you lose the ability to relate to viewers.

I’m not sure my friend always understood the corruptive nature of television — where ratings are everything and the outrageous is rewarded.

Sanchez understands all that better now, and it makes him better at his trade. This will be to the benefit of RT, and an audience that has likely awaited his return.

Finally, what about working for Moscow?

“In today’s media, truly independent reporters don’t stand a chance against media oligarchs because they have to constantly satisfy their bosses to keep their jobs,” he noted. “As for RT, I’m encouraged by their assurances and respect for my need to be an independent news gatherer and storyteller, even if it means hammering (Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. I’m nobody’s shill.”

There’s a reason that Sanchez has a following. Sure, he has not had a perfect career.

But America doesn’t like perfect. She respects scars and bruises. She likes folks who get knocked down and get back up.

Rick Sanchez has gotten back up.

ruben@rubennavarrette.com

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