To the Editor:
I’m writing to set the record straight and correct some troubling misperceptions created by Jerry Kammer’s article, “An Opposing Viewpoint: The Struggle to Be Heard,” printed in the Fall 2009 issue of Nieman Reports.
The gist of Kammer’s piece: that he can’t get published on The Washington Post op-ed page, and that’s unfair because I’ve appeared there and elsewhere in the Post several times in recent years—evidence, in his view, of an ideological bias on the part of the editors.
I’m sorry, but this is nothing more than a personal gripe dressed up as a high-minded political argument.
I couldn’t agree more with Kammer’s premise. The media should air—robustly and fairly—all sides of any contentious political debate. A complex issue like immigration, even more than others, needs thorough treatment from a variety of viewpoints. And as the paper of record in the nation’s capital, the Post has a special obligation to make space for many opinions.
What I don’t agree with: Kammer’s claim that the Post, paper or op-ed page, has taken my side in the debate.
Consider the organization Kammer works for, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)—a group, as he points out, with views very different from my own. In the six-year period he considers, CIS, its executive director Mark Krikorian and director of research Steven Camarota were mentioned or quoted in 113 Post stories. (For what it’s worth, I was mentioned in 25.)
Or consider the other writers published on the Post’s opinion pages in those years. Reading Kammer’s article, you’d think I was the only one given space to weigh in on immigration. In fact, by my count, the paper published more that 190 opinion pieces (op-eds, columns, Sunday essays) on the topic. Authors included conservative reformers like myself, progressive reformers like Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza and reform opponents as varied (and vigorous) as Charles Krauthammer, Robert Samuelson, Byron York—and Kammer’s colleague, Steven Camarota.
In short, I have been one voice among many, one argument in a robust debate—just as it should be.
As for Jerry Kammer, I can’t help wondering if his op-ed submission was based on the same kind of selective facts and skewered reporting as his piece in Nieman Reports. If so, no wonder he had trouble getting published.
Jerry Kammer, NF ’94, who works at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., responds:
Tamar Jacoby is a graceful writer and able advocate of the proposition that Congress should provide low-wage employers easy access to deep international pools of low-skilled workers. But her letter confuses the discussion initiated by Nieman Reports with its publication of my claim of bias in The Washington Post. It is interesting that Jacoby, so often published by the Post, now emerges as its defender, while the Post remains silent.
I made my claim against the Post’s opinion pages. But Jacoby tries to change the subject. She takes a diversionary tour to the Post’s news coverage of immigration. She notes that Post reporters quoted or mentioned my colleagues 113 times, while she received similar treatment only 25 times.
The stories Jacoby cites involved straight reporting that balanced opposing views. So Jacoby mixes the apples of opinion with the oranges of straight news. Moreover, I’d suggest that if Post reporters seek out my colleagues’ expertise so often, then editorial page editor Fred Hiatt should take note. Mr. Hiatt, tear down that fire wall! Let in those opposing views!
It is understandable that Hiatt, who has written in favor of the “comprehensive” approach, would be receptive to Jacoby’s views. Human nature inclines us all toward those with whom we agree. But when that inclination tilts a newspaper’s opinion pages as far as the Post’s have tilted, journalistic responsibility requires a correction of the imbalance. That is the gist of my argument.
The Post’s discourtesy to me, per se, is trivial. I cited it only because I believe it reflects a systematic bias against would-be op-ed contributors who believe that Jacoby’s proposals would not serve the national interest.
Jacoby’s brief for the Post avoids that point. Instead, she refers to in-house columnists Charles Krauthammer and Robert Samuelson, who write on a broad range of issues and whose immigration opinions are balanced by other inside voices, such as Harold Meyerson and Hiatt himself. She correctly notes that my colleague Steven Camarota wrote a piece for the Post, making the point that immigration is the principal factor in the rapid growth of the U.S. population. It is telling that she fails to cite other outside contributors on our side of the argument.
I fully agree that the Post may have had excellent reasons for rejecting my submission. There are many others who can express concerns about our immigration policies more eloquently than I. One of them is Harvard professor Christopher Jencks, who wrote this for The New York Review of Books:
America’s current immigration policy is a vast social experiment. … It involves two gambles. First, we are betting that rapid population growth will have no significant adverse effect on the quality of our descendants’ lives. Second, we are betting that we can admit millions of unskilled immigrants to do our dirty work without creating a second generation whose members will have the same problems as the children of the American-born workers who do such jobs.
The United States may be able to double its population without lowering the quality of its citizens’ lives, but the odds of its doing so would surely be better if it proceeded more slowly.
Such a voice would help the Post balance the views of Tamar Jacoby.
As a postscript, I’d like to note that after Nieman Reports was published, I received an e-mail from Autumn Brewington, who graciously apologized for not sending me a turn-down notification, adding: “We do make a good-faith effort to publish views on all sides, and in this instance published a response on July 23 in reference to the July 21 op-ed.”
In reply, I thanked her and pointed out that the published response, far from a rebuttal, was “more of a qualified endorsement.” I added this:
I would also point out that the low-wage employers Tamar represents are one of the big winners in the mass immigration. Among the big losers are low-wage Americans, including other recent immigrants. A few years ago I wrote a story about an immigrant from Mexico who came to the U.S. in the 1980’s and was upset that wages for drywall hangers had not risen in 20 years because of the constant arrival of young men willing to work for less. Great for the contractors, terrible for the working class. We should not become a country of winners and losers, of rich and poor, of gated communities and troubled urban neighborhoods. We are moving in that direction. The Post is a great paper, but its editorial attention to immigration is seriously imbalanced.