NYT Critical Spotlight on Tanton Gives His Anti-Immigrant Groups a Pass

The Sunday New York Times (4/17/11) ran a big front-page piece on John Tanton, founder of the anti-immigration organizations Federation for American Immigration Reform and Center for Immigration Studies. I guess it’s positive that someone in corporate media is finally paying attention to Tanton’s racism (long documented here at FAIR–1/1/93–and by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center–Winter/08), and reporter Jason DeParle does include a good deal of damning information about Tanton and some of his own racist words.

But he also manages to interview almost exclusively people currently or formerly affiliated with Tanton’s groups (six of these people in all) plus a few GOP officials–none of whom have anything bad to say about the Federation, CIS or Numbers USA (another Tanton-connected group), even if they’re mildly critical of Tanton himself. A single critic is quoted, Frank Sharry of the progressive immigration reform group America’s Voice. The result is that the piece essentially portrays Tanton as the only problem with these anti-immigrant groups, and though they won’t kick him off their boards, THEY’RE not actually racist themselves–they just roll their eyes at their racist founder and tolerate his eccentricities.

DeParle explained the trouble with critics of the groups:

Accusations of bigotry could alienate moderates the immigrant rights groups need. Allies of Dr. Tanton say their accusers are discrediting themselves with a guilt-by-association campaign that twists his ideas and projects them onto groups where, they say, his influence long ago waned.

The idea is attributed to allies of Tanton, but that’s the basic framing of the entire piece. If critics were given more space, they might have been able to point out that it’s not just a Tanton problem–although the fact that he remains on the board of the Federation ought to be plenty damning in itself. As the SPLC documents (3/16/10), the racism at the Federation and CIS extends far beyond Tanton, permeating the board, staff and programming. Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS, wrote in the National Review Online (1/21/10) that

Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough…. Unlike Jamaicans and Bajans and Guadeloupeans, et al., after experiencing the worst of tropical colonial slavery, the Haitians didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from it. (Haiti became independent in 1804.). And by benefit I mean develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation, was asked by Tucker Carlson (Wall Street Journal, 10/2/97) to respond to a quote from another Federation board member, eugenicist Garrett Hardin, who had warned that “breeders” were reproducing uncontrollably “in Third World countries,” and that the “less intelligent” should be discouraged from “breeding.” Stein’s response: “Yeah, so what? What is your problem with that? Should we be subsidizing people with low IQs to have as many children as possible, and not subsidizing those with high ones?”

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 4/29/10) recently confronted Stein with this quote and other evidence of racism at the Federation compiled by the SPLC. Stein claimed that all of the SPLC’s factual allegations about his group were wrong. The next night (4/30/10), Maddow factchecked Stein’s claims, demonstrating that he, in Maddow’s words, “was flat-out, totally shamelessly uncomplicatedly lying.”

That’s the kind of reporting that needs to be done on Stein and his colleagues.

About Julie Hollar

Managing Editor of Extra! Magazine
Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.