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Tom Brokaw, NBC News senior correspondent and former anchor for NBC Nightly News. Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Tom Brokaw, NBC News senior correspondent and former anchor for NBC Nightly News. Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Tom Brokaw’s ‘assimilation’ comments mostly ignored, should be remembered

The real danger, of course, is that this is not an isolated incident. Brokaw is not alone.

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Tom Brokaw’s regrettable comments about Hispanics needing to “work harder on assimilation” on Meet the Press, Sunday’s most popular TV show, got a lot of attention on social media last week.

And then, just as quickly it took for him to come up with that mediocre apology, it was forgotten.

Maria Elena Salinas responded with a strongly-worded tweet inviting him to consult her in the future if he wants to know about Latinos.

“Disappointed @tombrokaw to see you were trying to get attention with misguided, erroneous, xenophobic comments. Surprised someone of your stature would say, let alone believe Latinos are not assimilated and/or acculturated. If you need some facts don’t hesitate to reach out to me.”

And NPR’s Maria Hinojosa was quick and classic with an invitation to reality.

“Dear Tom. This is such an important moment. And it could be such a great teaching and learning moment. I want to speak with you from a place of respect and teaching and learning. Please join me on @LatinoUSA @InTheThickShow @tombrokaw.”

But where are all our other Hispanic journalist “leaders,” the big boys, so to speak?  Univision’s Jorge Ramos? Knight Foundation’s Alberto Ibarguen? Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart?

Crickets.

The latter’s silence is the most deafening, because Diaz-Balart lives in the NBC house. Telemundo was purchased by NBC Universal in 2006. Diaz-Balart retweeted someone else’s outrage to Brokaw’s comments, but none of his own. He did not return calls and emails seeking his reaction.

Neither did Ramos or Ibarguen. Who can blame them? They might be a tad embarrassed.

And now, with the ongoing chaos in Venezuela and the State-of-the-Union address, it’s yesterday’s news. But it’s hard to imagine this would be brushed under the rug so quickly if the word Latinos had been replaced with another term.

The real danger, of course, is that this is not an isolated incident. Brokaw is not alone.

“This is happening in newsrooms across the country,” said McNelly Torres, an award-winning independent investigative journalist and cofounder of Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

“These are the people who tell the stories about us. That’s the scary part.”

Naturally, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists came out with a statement immediately.

“The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) reprehend both the commentary and apology by journalist, Tom Brokaw, as well as the lack of response by NBC News to the inaccurate representation of Hispanics’ need to ‘assimilate,’  comments by Brokaw on the Meet the Press segment with Chuck Todd.

“Despite disappointment by veteran journalist Brokaw, NAHJ applauds Yamiche Alcindor (PBS NewsHour White House correspondent and political contributor to NBC News and MSNBC) for taking the opportunity to ‘fact check’ the false remarks.  As Yamiche begins to point out, by saying a group ‘must assimilate’ is to label America as being one-dimensional and consists of a single culture. To assert that the U.S. is not the melting pot that the country prides itself on being, is disinformation as the U.S. has always had immigrants and a mixture of races, religious beliefs and languages in its history. It is these values in fact that makes the country fascinating and has spread the ‘American Dream.’

Brokaw’s comments also ignore the fact that most U.S. Hispanics are born in the United States; English is their native language. His position bolsters stereotypes that U.S. Hispanics are all foreigners, prejudiced as the others.’

“… The ‘sorry some Hispanics were offended’ apology tweeted by Tom Brokaw earlier this evening is not an apology at all. It only further demonstrates Brokaw’s lack of understanding of what forced assimilation does to communities.”

But none of the affinity organizations in journalism – the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Asian Journalists, the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists -- have said squat.

“Yes, it is surprising,” said NAHJ President Hugo Balta, who is also senior producer at MSNBC (NBC’s cable news network). “I would certainly welcome their support if anything in solidarity. The next occurrence may be against African Americans, Asian Americans or the LGBTQ community. So in that respect, I am surprised that we are standing alone."

It’s concerning not only because journalists are the watchdogs of fairness, but also because we are the watchdogs of accuracy.

According to a report by the Instituto Cervantes research center, there are an estimated 52.6 million people in the U.S. who speak Spanish; 41 million of them are native Spanish speakers and another 11.6 million are bilingual. Increasingly, despite Brokaw’s limited knowledge, the Hispanic population is bilingual as the number of U.S.-born Latinos grow.

“The comments Tom Brokaw is being criticized for, he said were his opinion. But it needs to be based on fact,” Balta said. “Hispanics are assimilating.”

A coalition of Latino leaders wrote to NBC and urged the network to give NAHJ a donation, “on our behalf without our permission,” Balta said. But he wants more than money.

“We’ve reached out to NBC Network in order to meet and get a better understanding of this situation, how this happened, but also to explore opportunities for NAHJ to be a resource in the future, for them to recruit and retain Latino talent,” Balta said. “It’s not about making a donation. It’s about working together toward improving fair and accurate coverage of Latinos.

“The way to do that is not just by waving an index finger but by extending an open hand and working together to improve the inclusion and representation of Latinos across the country,” he said.

That’s the only way this won’t be brushed under the rug.

Elaine de Valle is a Pulitzer and Emmy award winning journalist and writer living in Miami and New York City. She writes freelance analysis of media, pop culture and politics for Al Dia and can be reached at [email protected]
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