Tom Brokaw managed to do the near-impossible yesterday — anger everyone on all sides of the multicultural argument. Appearing as an eminence grise on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, Brokaw said that both Democrats and Republicans have to get over their problems with Hispanics and immigration. Brokaw claimed that he has heard Republicans tell him that they “don’t want brown grandbabies,” but also that “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation.”
Guess which remark drew the apology late last night? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count:
BROKAW: And a lot of this, we don’t want to talk about. But the fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinary, important, new constituent in American politics, Hispanics, who will come here and all be Democrats. Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, “Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.” I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other.
I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.
This came at the end of the program, which might have been a blessing for host Chuck Todd. PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor managed to fire off one warning shot at Brokaw over his remarks before Todd closed down the show, foreshadowing what was to come:
ALCINDOR: I would just say that we also need to adjust what we think of as America. You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.
After getting deluged with criticism on Twitter, Brokaw responded by apologizing — but not without defending himself. He claimed credit for using his career in reporting to have “worked hard to knock down false stereo types [sic]”. Three hours later, he offered a more complete apology — for the assimilation comments, anyway:
my twitter acct failed me at the worst time.
i am sorry, truly sorry, my comments were offensive to
many. the great enduring american tradition of diversity is to be celebrated and cherished. yamiche, thank u for your comments.
let’s go forward together.
— Tom Brokaw (@tombrokaw) January 28, 2019
There’s a discussion to be had on assimilation and public policy, but it’s broader than just the Hispanic-immigrant community. Should public policy incentivize the use of English in order to provide better opportunities for prosperity among immigrants of all origins? Or should we provide parallel services in other languages to deal with the instant reality of life in first-generation immigrant communities? That is a legitimate debate, especially in a nation which welcomes legal immigrants as much as the US does, but it shouldn’t be framed in the context of a single community or language.
So fine and good, Brokaw’s apologized for that insinuation, even with some white-knighting to go along with it. But what about the idea that Republicans don’t like immigration because they don’t want to have “brown grandbabies”? Brokaw’s comment makes it seem like a significant part of the motives for those who want the border secured with a wall. I’ve spent some time with immigration hardliners and have never heard that sentiment, not even once. Maybe Brokaw has, but it’s hardly a mainstream issue among those who want the border secured and immigration laws enforced.
I’d guess that Brokaw hasn’t heard it much either, but is simply assuming it. There’s been no small amount of fabulism among the mainstream media over the years, which makes everyone suspicious when major figures make jaw-dropping claims with a “some say” preface. (Brokaw’s NBC News colleague Brian Williams would be one such example.) Either Brokaw should name names, or he owes millions more people an apology for broadly smearing them as racists.