But supporters of the bill did not merely say the critics were mistaken; they basically said they were bigots.
As this legislative drama unfolded, the Times editorial page was quick to echo this charge. “In a time when this country is attempting to wipe away ancient wrongs against its Negro citizens,” it thundered, “its conscience will not permit a sign at all ports of entry reading: ‘Only whites from Northwestern Europe are welcome.’”
Another scalding editorial examined the current law as the product of unfounded paranoia produced by “the mood of Harding isolationism, periodic Red Scares, and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan” in the “reactionary” 1920s. The “intellectual poison” of racism “is slow to work its way out of any people’s system,” the editorial sniffed.
News reporting on the bill’s progress was not as strident as the editorializing. Yet it was still unmistakably one-sided. The congressional testimony of Myra Hacker, who along with other opponents of the bill questioned the “hidden mathematics” of the legislation, was noted in a mere six-paragraph wire service item.
The paper devoted substantially more of its space to supporters. A doting Sunday Magazine profile on Edward Kennedy, written by editorial board member and Kennedy camp-follower William Shannon, claimed that Kennedy’s debut as floor manager of the bill marked “another milestone in the remarkable career of the junior Senator from Massachusetts” and the completion of Kennedy’s “political apprenticeship.” This lengthy salute, however, failed in any way to examine the social, cultural and economic implications of the legislation Kennedy was driving. Shannon said that when the immigration bill came to the Senate floor, everyone would be focused “as much on the skill of the sponsor as the merits of the bill.” Yet those merits, or demerits, were given only glancing mention.
The Times’ biases were also made clear by the way it allowed its news reporting to amplify the sanctimony of the hearings, which delegitimized the very real issues associated with assimilating third-world immigrants with starkly different cultural values, attitudes and traditions. Typical was the prominent play given to Senator Robert Kennedy’s prediction that the reforms would pass and that they would show “that one people is not intrinsically superior or inferior to another people.” Likewise the play accorded to Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach’s sermon that selecting immigrants based on “personal pedigree” was intolerable.
The Times also played carrots and sticks. Earlier in the debate, an editorial read racial ill-will into opposition voiced by Democratic Congressman Michael Feighan. But when Feighan threw his support behind the bill, the immigration subcommittee chairman was feted.
When Times news coverage did get into technical details of the reform bill at all, it ignored the reform’s “hidden mathematics.” Uncritically relaying unfounded forecasts and glib assurances in the service of wishful thinking, it overlooked the elephant in the next room — i.e., massive potential third-world influxes. “The bill would greatly increase immigration from such nations as Poland, Greece, Italy and Portugal,” one particularly incurious Times report maintained, failing to even mention India, China, Africa and Latin America, where populations were rapidly expanding.