Tom Brokaw tries to put out the fire he started with comments about Hispanics and assimilation

NEW YORK CITY — Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw tweeted Sunday that he regrets saying that Hispanics should “work harder at assimilation” into American culture.

“I feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture,” he said at the beginning of a series of tweets.

The veteran newsman also said he has “worked hard to knock down false stereotypes,” and pointed out that he said in his final comment on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that all sides have to work harder.

Criticism erupted after Brokaw, 78, commented on Hispanics and assimilation during Sunday’s broadcast of “Meet the Press.” He said on the show that his view on assimilation is one he’s been sharing “for a long time.”

“You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities,” he said. “And that’s going to take outreach on both sides [Republican and Democrat], frankly.”

During the segment, fellow panelist Yamiche Alcindor, a “PBS NewsHour” correspondent, challenged some of Brokaw’s comments.

“We also need to adjust what we think of as America,” she said. “You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.”

‘A punch in the gut’

Some journalists on social media quickly criticized Brokaw’s comments. Aura Bogado, an investigative immigration reporter at Reveal, said Brokaw was “arguing classic white supremacist talking points in a deeply racist rant on national television.”

Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of LatinoRebels.com, said the broadcast was difficult to watch.

“It really was a punch in the gut to a lot of people,” he said. “It was not only factually incorrect, it was also xenophobia in action.”

Speaking on CNN’s “Newsroom” later in the day, liberal commentator Maria Cardona said that she loves Brokaw, but that “he’s a little out of touch.”

“I’ll give him a pass because he’s probably not up to speed as to where things are today and age, especially with young Latinos in this country,” she said. She insisted that “Latinos absolutely assimilate.”

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists said in a statement late Sunday that it found both Brokaw’s initial comments and his Twitter response reprehensive.

Huga Balta, the organization’s president and a senior producer at MSNBC, said that assimilation means “denying one culture for another.”

“Hispanics are no less American for embracing their country of origin or that of their ancestors … being bicultural and bilingual is a strength in an increasingly multi-ethnic, multilingual society,” he said.

After reading Brokaw’s response to the controversy, conservative commentator Erick Erickson weighed in on Twitter. He said Brokaw’s comments on the “Meet the Press” were not something “that anyone needs to apologize for making. They’re truths people don’t want to hear.”

Erickson’s tweet was a preview of how this debate is likely to unfold — pitting prominent conservatives and liberals against one another.

Brokaw could not be reached for additional comment Sunday evening.

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