A judge might have to decide whether former Fox 4-TV news reporter Rebecca Aguilar is a martyr, fired for standing up for Hispanics in the newsroom, or an overly aggressive reporter who crossed the line of ethical journalism by throwing hardball questions at an elderly man who had shot and killed two intruders in separate incidents at his Dallas junkyard.
Static leans heavily toward the former, though acknowledging that Aguilar can be an acquired taste.
She says newsroom politics prompted her firing in March, and this month she filed a federal equal-employment complaint accusing KDFW-TV of retaliating against her for advocating that the station hire more minorities in management positions. Fox issued a one-sentence statement about looking forward to “defending our decision in the appropriate forum.” What’s that? Static is shocked to learn this little column isn’t a fitting forum.
Aguilar, however, is happy to dish. She’s the daughter of civil rights activists who came to the United States from Mexico as undocumented immigrants. Aguilar worked alongside them picking tomatoes when she was a child. Her parents “fought to improve working and living conditions for migrant workers up in the Northwest,” she said, and her dad was a labor leader at the United Auto Workers union. “That’s the legacy they left me,” she said. “I’m glad they taught me to be brave.”
The interview that doomed Aguilar was blown way out of proportion. She didn’t mug the guy. “Are you a trigger-happy kind of person?” is the question that most angered viewers, and it was phrased rather cheekily. But it’s a legitimate question for a guy who shot two people in three weeks for trying to steal junk. And just because the guy is old, white, and prone to tears, and Aguilar is tough, brown, and female, shouldn’t matter a whit. Still, she was suspended in October after viewers, local bloggers, gun rights activists, and racist yokels pitched a fit.
Aguilar said she couldn’t understand why her bosses turned on her so quickly and decided it had more to do with office politics than her work. She recalled a saying of her father’s – Do not work or walk in fear – and she felt obliged to question the scant news coverage of minority communities and to encourage Fox to hire more minorities, she said. “I never saw one Hispanic in management there,” she said.
Just prior to her suspension, she had been named 2007 broadcast journalist of the year by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which spurred requests for speaking engagements. She wonders now if Fox worried that, in those speeches, she would criticize the station’s lack of diversity. “It was an excuse to get rid of me,” she said. Sounds a bit conspiracy theorist, but not inconceivable.
Aguilar wasn’t interested in a managerial position for herself because “I love being a reporter,” she said, but she wanted others to get a chance. “Yeah, I was outspoken,” she said. “But I did it professionally, telling them in memos, telling them in person.”
Now she’s waiting for a trial (or a settlement), attending mixed-media classes at community college, and trying to figure out her next career move. “The first thing is, I have to fight Goliath and try to regain my reputation,” she said.