IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

NBC's Tom Brokaw apologizes for statements widely criticized as troubling stereotypes of Latinos

His remarks reflected assumptions about Latinos, language and assimilation that are not borne out by the facts.
Image: Tom Browkaw appears on \"Meet the Press\" in Washington Jan. 27, 2019.
Tom Browkaw appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington Jan. 27, 2019.William B. Plowman / NBC

The longtime NBC News journalist Tom Brokaw apologized Sunday for comments he made on the air about Hispanics in the U.S. that were criticized for perpetuating troubling inaccuracies.

Brokaw, an NBC News special correspondent and former "Nightly News" anchor, found himself at the center of a firestorm for statements he made during a discussion of President Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall and the recently lifted government shutdown during NBC’s “Meet the Press."

During a panel discussion, Brokaw said he has heard from people, after pushing "a little harder" for their opinion, that they don't know whether they "want brown grand-babies.” He also spoke of "the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other."

But he also expressed personal feelings that “the Hispanics” need to work harder at assimilating, speaking English and learning to be comfortable in other communities.

The comments drew an immediate backlash on Twitter, with critics saying the comments ranged from being factually incorrect to xenophobic to “stunningly ignorant” of Hispanics in America.

After he initially tried to explain his comments, saying he was trying to present both sides, Brokaw apologized.

“I feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture,” Brokaw said in a tweet. He added in another tweet: “I am sorry, truly sorry my comments were offensive to many. The great enduring american tradition of diversity is to be celebrated and cherished …”

Brokaw did not state in his apology that his comments such as "the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation" or that Hispanics should "make sure all their kids are speaking English" are not borne out by data or studies.

An NBC News spokesperson told NBC News reporter Stephanie Gosk on Monday that "Tom's comments were inaccurate and inappropriate, and we're glad he apologized."

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, whose brother, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, is the highest profile Latino running for president, was among the critics, attacking Brokaw’s comments on Latino children needing to learn English. He noted that in past years "Spanish was literally beaten out of children" and parents became reluctant to pass down the language.

Latino Victory, a group formed to increase Latino political engagement and to get more Latino candidates into public office, said in a tweet the comments “give credence to white supremacist ideology and are not rooted in reality.”

George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, said on Twitter that "I am one of those 'little brown ones' and can assure you that my grandparents conveyed to me that they loved and were proud of me before they passed."

Facts don't bear out Brokaw's statements

According to Pew Research Center, the Latino population is overwhelmingly U.S.-born, about 65.6 percent in 2015.

As has been the case with other immigrant groups, Latinos increasingly become English dominant by the second generation. According to Pew’s research, by the third generation or higher, Latinos are 75 percent English dominant and 24 percent are bilingual.

In other words, 99 percent of Latinos who are the grandchildren of immigrants speak English.

While the number of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home is at an all-time high due to immigration trends of recent decades, a record 35 million Hispanics ages 5 and older say they are English proficient, up from 19 million in 2000, according to Pew Research Center.

If anything, a 2017 Pew Research report suggests that the trends are going in the opposite direction from the impression given by Brokaw.

"But two trends — a long-standing high intermarriage rate and a decade of declining Latin American immigration — are distancing some Americans with Hispanic ancestry from the life experiences of earlier generations, reducing the likelihood they call themselves Hispanic or Latino," the report said.

"By the third generation — a group made up of the U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents and immigrant grandparents — the share that self-identifies as Hispanic falls to 77%. And by the fourth or higher generation (U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents and U.S.-born grandparents, or even more distant relatives), just half of U.S. adults with Hispanic ancestry say they are Hispanic," the report added.

While Brokaw did not define assimilation, many groups use patriotism as a measure of how committed people are to the country.

When the late American political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that Latinos were not assimilating, academics across social sciences tested his hypothesis and concluded he was wrong.

Jack Citrin, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, found that contrary to that claim, native-born Hispanics were not only proud of their country, but had a profound attachment to their national identity as Americans.

Hispanics, he said, “had significantly higher scores on this measure of patriotism than whites.” He also found that Hispanics rapidly lose Spanish beginning with the second generation, and are no more or less religious or committed to the work ethic than native-born whites.

Politically, Brokaw said there are fears among Republicans of increasing Democratic voting by Latinos. Although nationally Latinos are more likely to vote Democratic, in states like Texas and Florida, Republican candidates regularly get fairly strong Latino support, as was the case with the election of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who got 44 percent of the Latino vote last year.

The Coalition for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles issued a statement calling Brokaw’s comments out of touch with today’s reality.

“Hearing Mr. Brokaw parroting stereotypes about Latinos reminded us that white supremacy ideology is a vestige of our nation’s past rearing its ugly head again.”

A group of Latino leaders in politics, social justice and media published an open letter to NBC on the web site Medium. They said Brokaw's apology was inadequate and underscored the lack of Latino voices on the air. The names of at least 34 Latinos were at the bottom of the letter as signatories.

In regards to Brokaw, the group said: "We expect more from someone who has spent his career covering and studying American history and culture, which appears to have some significant gaps about the Latino, Latinx and Hispanic communities and experience in the United States.