Documenting the NPR Slant on Immigration

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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As a former reporter who generally admires the work of National Public Radio, I have long been struck by what seems to be a reflexive bias of many of its journalists.

Reporter Martin Kaste provided a vivid example two years ago when he opined that the Center for Immigration Studies is "decidedly right wing". It was a careless, off-hand comment. Kaste cited no evidence. He had done none of the rudimentary reporting that would have shown him the staunchly liberal credentials of several of the most important figures at CIS. He had no understanding of the fact that liberals and conservatives can be found on both sides of our national immigration debate.

After NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher Matos investigated my complaint and concluded that my grievance against Kaste was legitimate, Kaste rejected Schumacher Mato's suggestion that he acknowledge the error with a correction in the online version of his story.

The inability of talented journalists at NPR and elsewhere to understand that the immigration debate cannot be explained with a simple left-right axis is so perplexing that I am collecting samples. I found another one last week as I was reading Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn Against Immigration. Published in 1999, it was written by immigration scholar David Reimers, a historian at New York University. Reimers writes with a nuanced understanding of the complexity of the national debate.

The passage that illustrates the decades-old problem at NPR concerned a 1995 book by Sanford Ungar, the former host of "All Things Considered" and a man of considerable journalistic and academic accomplishment. Ungar's widely praised book is titled Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants.

Here is how Reimers describes the book and notes Ungar's tendentious slant:

While acknowledging problems with aspects of current policy, Ungar comes down squarely on the side of the pro-immigrant lobby. … He ends his book apparently approving a quote from a hotel executive who helped many immigrants, saying "There has never been any real basis for opposing immigration but racism, in one form or another. That is not what America is supposed to be about."

The broad context of Ungar's book makes it clear that he did indeed approve of the quote from the hotel executive. His sensibility about immigration was tuned so powerfully to acceptance of mass immigration, including mass illegal immigration, that he simply could not accept the notion that there are legitimate reasons to disagree. While Ungar made those comments in a book — not in an NPR studio — they typify the bias that has been commonplace at NPR.

George Lakoff, the Berkeley professor and proud progressive, has written that "empathy is at the center of the progressive moral world view." But for NPR progressives — aka liberals like Ungar and Kaste — empathy fills the frame of their view, producing not just disapproval of competing views, but contempt for them. When empathy is your religion and inclusiveness is your gospel, you tend to scorn those whose humanitarian concerns are qualified by competing concerns about the broad societal effects of mass immigration.

NPR frequently promotes its commitment — along with its funders — to producing the next generation of outstanding journalists. Here's hoping its inclusiveness will extend to those whose views on immigration differ from those so ardently held by journalists like Martin Kaste and Sanford Ungar.

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