Jason DeParle Has the Last Word, for Now

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on April 26, 2011

In yesterday's blog, I noted that New York Times reporter Jason DeParle had responded to questions I had emailed him regarding his April 17 front-page story. I did not quote from the response because I had offered to embargo it for a year. I offered the embargo because I thought he might be more comfortable and candid if he knew that the answers would be printed long after the initial controversy of his story had cooled. I hope to write at length about the story and about the Times' immigration coverage and commentary. But not today and not for awhile.

Last night DeParle sent me an email, giving me the okay to lift the embargo. Below is his response, as I received it. The only change I have made to the substance is the deletion of the name of the Times editor he mentions in the second paragraph. The editor, an acquaintance for whom I have tremendous respect, did not edit DeParle's story. DeParle refers here to the CAP and the SPLC; they are the Center for American Progress and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Many reporters would have ignored questions like the ones I sent DeParle. I appreciate his willingness to respond to them:

I'm sorry that you think the story was unfair, or that in writing about John Tanton "the substance of the immigration debate gets lost." But I don't think The New York Times can be fairly accused of reducing its immigration coverage to a story about John Tanton. We've written thousands of immigration stories over the past several decades and examined endless facets of the debate. Yet until now we had scarcely mentioned John Tanton. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he has been a consequential figure as a movement builder, and therefore merits a look. The paper has long covered the substance of the immigration debate and will continue to do so.

In your note to [a Times editor], you said you believed there were "solid, non-racist reasons to want to limit immigration." Nothing in the story suggests otherwise. On the contrary, it says "then as today, there were serious liberal arguments for lower immigration." And it specifies what some of those arguments are—protecting the environment, protecting the wages and jobs of native-born workers, reducing competition for schools, jobs, and services in low-income and minority communities.

Also, I don't agree that the article "carefully leaves the suggestion of bigotry in the air," in its description of Roy Beck. Again to the contrary, the story says that he "appeared to have to share little in common with the white nationalist element in Dr. Tanton's broad circle." That language is careful to note that Dr. Tanton had a diverse group of associates, only some of whom were white nationalists, and that Roy Beck was not in the white nationalist camp. In fact, the story took pains to cite evidence to the contrary. It notes that he wrote a song dedicated to fighting racism, posts a picture of Barbara Jordan, and quotes him saying that whatever Dr. Tanton's intent, his policies would help minorities. I'm not sure what else story could say on that topic, other than to ignore the Tanton relationship altogether.(Not that it matters, but the other side complained the piece gave too much emphasis to Roy's anti-racist credentials.)

As to your specific questions:

  • 1.) Meeting at CAP—As far as I know, there were a number of strategy meetings, including a significant one at Airlie House, where the pro-legalization side decided to become more militant. I think the consequence of the meetings is more important that the site. I tried to summarize the consequence by writing: "A new network formed of loosely affiliated liberal groups with a more confrontational bent. It focused on two words: John Tanton."

  • 2.) Carnegie money—For space constraints, the piece didn't get into the financial supporters of either side. It didn't say who is currently financing FAIR, Numbers USA, CIS, the SPLC or America's Voice. Carnegie's involvement is interesting, but so is that of Cordelia May Scaife, Fred Stanback,. and Charlie Munger, or (on the other side) Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Institute. I don't think the Pioneer-Carnegie analogy holds. For one, there's no way to write a story about the history of John Tanton a movement builder and not cover the Pioneer episode, since it drove away supporters, caused internal dissent—changed the course of the organization. Two, the Pioneer Fund has a record of supporting theories of the genetic superiority of whites. As far as I know, the other funders on both sides do not. That puts Pioneer in a separate class.

  • 3.) Patriotic struggle: The relevance was to show that the low-immigration side has differing views on John Tanton, and that some see criticism of him as damaging or disloyal. I don't see that truncating the quote changed its meaning. As for the hate group designation, the piece clearly presents that as an extreme charge, not a fact, and one that might even backfire on those making it. ("Some have gone as far as calling FAIR a hate group.") It presents the restrictionists' view that their accusers are "discrediting themselves by a guilt by association campaign"—one that "twists" Dr. Tanton's ideas and applies them to groups where "his influence long ago waned." After presenting Roy's history of pledging to fight racism, it notes that America's Voice features him in a video with Klansmen and Nazis. Readers can judge for themselves about the fairness of that.

  • 4.) Barbara Jordan—She arises in the context of discussing Roy's racial views. The fact that he embraces a black civil rights leader and puts her picture on his website supports his view that he has no racial bias. We identified her as someone he considered "an ally," which indicates that she was broadly shared his concerns about immigration. I think that makes the point.

In writing the piece, I was reminded afresh of how polarized the debate is, with decent, thoughtful people in both camps. I realize we waded into a particularly sensitive element of the debate and drew strong reaction, with complaints on both sides.