Dear New York Times:
I am writing in response to the epic failure of your coverage of the presidential election. I should make it clear at the outset that I am no Trump apologist. I voted, reluctantly, for Hillary Clinton. I write as a former immigration reporter whose respect for the Times has long been diminished by the ideological bias that pervades much of your immigration coverage and commentary.
I believe that bias explains your inability to appreciate the public frustration with immigration that was a significant factor in the victory of Donald Trump. Your work on immigration exemplifies the liberal bias identified by your first public editor, Daniel Okrent, who wrote in 2004 that when it comes to its social issues, "if you think the Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed."
I point first to the banner headline across the top of page one on Wednesday, November 9, the day after the election. With a solipsistic slant more appropriate to a journal of social psychology, it declared: "DEMOCRATS, STUDENTS, AND FOREIGN ALLIES FACE THE REALITY OF A TRUMP PRESIDENCY". It was a headline that will live in journalism infamy.
Bloomberg editor Mark Halperin explained why. Said Halperin, "This is the day after a surprising, underdog, sweeping victory, and their headline is not 'Disaffected Americans have a champion going to the White House' or 'The country votes for fundamental change.' The headline is about how disappointed the friends of the people who run the New York Times are about what's happened." Halperin observed that the headline was like a self-parody of the clueless editorial elite. "I mean, it's amazing!" he exclaimed. "I mean, it's The Onion!"
The Times' reporting and editorializing on illegal immigration have long been marred by a lack of interest in how the story — especially the recent decades of mass illegal immigration — plays out in the lives of ordinary Americans. The paper has fallen far from the journalistic standard it upheld during the long debate that preceded congressional passage of the last sweeping immigration reform legislation, in 1986.
Back then, the Times was attuned to the political complexity and moral ambiguity in which immigration policy is steeped. An editorial observed, "For reasons of vitality, humanity and history, America wants and needs immigrants. What it does not need is such an uncontrollable flood of illegal migrants that it tries public patience and foments a backlash against all newcomers. That's the genuine danger." The editorial was headlined "Time to Turn the Illegal Tide".
In recent years, led by publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper has adopted an ideology of multiculturalism whose stridency and self-righteousness were reflected in Sulzberger's notorious 2006 commencement at the State University of New York at New Paltz. There he lamented the failure of his baby boom generation to build a world that was sufficiently inclusive to meet his lofty standards.
Said Sulzberger, "You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, whether it's the rights of immigrants to start a new life; or the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose." Predicting that fateful decisions lay before the graduates, he said: "You will choose at each point whether to be bold or hesitant, inclusive or elitist, generous or stingy."
Inclusiveness has become the most sacred value at our country's most influential newspaper. The Times editorial board demands full inclusion for illegal immigrants, whom it embraces as "Americans in waiting". Meanwhile, it is smugly contemptuous of Americans who have waited in mounting frustration for our government to fulfill its 1986 promise to stop illegal immigration by denying jobs to unauthorized workers. It sneers at the resentments of working-class Americans while it asserts its own moral superiority.
Consider your choice of the two reporters you have placed in Arizona since 2010, when the state replaced California as the epicenter of the national immigration debate. Both Marc Lacey and Fernanda Santos are talented journalists. But both were far more attuned to illegal immigrants' struggle for inclusion than to the insistence of most Arizonans that the federal government enforce immigration laws that, by definition, set standards for inclusion and prescribe penalties for those who defied the law.
Lacey, for example, had chronicled the struggle for gay rights in such countries as Cuba, Jamaica, Argentina, and Mexico. Santos, herself an immigrant from Brazil, co-authored "Latinos in the United States: A Resource Guide for Journalists". Neither reporter showed much interest in the anxieties of Arizonans like the woman who wrote this eloquent plea in a letter to the editor of the Mesa Tribune:
Why am I a racist because I am scared? The media say, "But they only want to work to feed their families." I also want to work to feed my family, but most important to me is that my family is safe. I think those who can make over $40,000 a year don't realize how much it affects the working poor. My husband is a construction worker. He goes to a job site to work and has to compete with a person who will accept $6 an hour. My husband now has to work two jobs. ... I am frustrated by the system and I know that the government at all levels (local and federal) has failed the American people. If I am a racist for feeling this way, then so be it, I'm a racist.
It was a passionate, defiant cry from the heart that is incomprehensible at the New York Times, whose reporters are committed to the Times' narrative that illegal immigrants are noble strivers opposed only by snarling nativists. Perhaps the most notorious example was longtime immigration reporter Nina Bernstein, whose monotone preoccupation with the migrants' side of the story prompted journalist Mickey Kaus to write in 2007 that Bernstein was "the most tendentious and biased reporter on the paper — that would be the famed liberal bias — and she's almost certain to weave a cocoon that will help restrict Times readers to utter marginal irrelevance as debate proceeds."
Now the Times' national immigration reporter is Julia Preston. While Preston's reporting is less tendentious than Bernstein's, she continues the tradition of inattention to immigration's effects on the job prospects of Americans at the lower end of our job markets. Preston has provided admirable coverage of the displacement of American tech workers. But she has done little to inform Times readers of the lesser-skilled workers who are displaced by illegal immigrants. And she has reported only superficially on the State Department's program, which, under the guise of cultural exchange, provides economic incentives for American employers to ignore young Americans and hire young foreigners for seasonal work.
Finally, I point to a 2015 interview that Times reporter Liz Robbins conducted for C-SPAN with Dan-el Padilla Peralta, whose book Undocumented chronicled his journey from his native Dominican Republic.
Padilla Peralta's pages seethe with contempt for opponents of illegal immigration. He describes them as "anti-immigrant zealots who invoked the law as cover for their xenophobia", as "haters", racists, and "the chauvinistically minded few". He heaps scorn and ridicule on a former classmate Princeton, calling her an "immigrant-hater chick".
Robbins' interview was a protracted swoon, an all-in-for-inclusiveness abdication of the journalistic duty to conduct skeptical inquiry. As I watched on TV, I waited in vain for probing questions. Did Padilla Peralta see no justifiable reason for the United States to limit immigration? When did U.S. policy toward him and his family become reprehensible? Was it when his parents defied immigration law by overstaying their visas? Was it a few years later when his father had returned to the Dominican Republic and his mother was receiving government support for housing and food? Did Padilla Peralta understand why Americans are infuriated by his claim, asserted on behalf of immigrants whether legal or not, that, "We are in the ascendant. America is ours." What was this if not arrogant mockery of the democratic society that has allowed it to happen?
Robinson was so rapturous in Padilla Peralta's presence that she felt no need to ask him to explain the strutting, arrogant taunt at the very end of his book: "And so to the haters, a final word: Demography is a bitch. Holla at me if you want me to break it down for you."
What we heard on November 8 was a primal scream from tens of millions of Americans who feel betrayed by political, social, and journalistic elites whose post-national religion of inclusiveness demands the glorification of illegal immigration and the demonization of those who protest our government's failure to stop it.
You could start by directing your reporters to spend a few hours learning the views of Barbara Jordan, the late civil rights champion who in 1995 reported to Congress as chair of the federal Commission on Immigration Reform. Typical of Jordan's concern for her fellow Americans was her insistence that "it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."
Editor's note: The opening paragraph of this post has been changed from the original, which did not state that the author voted for Hillary Clinton.