PBS's Tucker Carlson distorted Gray Lady report on black-and-white issues at Harvard


During the opening monologue of the June 25 edition of PBS's Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, host Tucker Carlson, a conservative pundit and a co-host of CNN's Crossfire, misrepresented the contents of a New York Times article by Sara Rimer and Karen W. Arenson and the opinions of those quoted within.

• Carlson stated:

Here's something I bet you never thought you'd hear a liberal say: Harvard is letting in too many Africans. Yet that is exactly what a group of earnest liberals told The New York Times this week.

In fact, none of the academics and educators quoted in the June 24 New York Times article to which Carlson referred said anything of the sort. (The version of Carlson's monologue published on the show's official website is not an accurate transcript of what was broadcast. The monologue, as broadcast, did not include the word "almost" before the word "exactly" in the second sentence. In any case, no one quoted in the article said "almost exactly" that either.)

Carlson himself opposes affirmative action; for example, on the March 1 edition of CNN's Crossfire, he said, "Well, as critics have often pointed out, moderate affirmative action isn't all that different from good old-fashioned segregation. The notion of fighting racism with racism is unprincipled. It's immoral. And it's also just plain dumb."

Those quoted in the article do express an interest in discussing whether race-based affirmative action programs are benefiting members of the population they intend to reach. Harvard professors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lani Guinier told a recent reunion of Harvard University's black alumni that perhaps up to two-thirds of black Harvard undergraduates were immigrants or children of immigrants, and not students who were specifically disadvantaged by, as The New York Times' Rimer and Arenson wrote, "the legacy of Jim Crow laws, segregation and decades of racism, poverty and inferior schools, who were intended as principal beneficiaries of affirmative action in university admissions." A representative viewpoint is expressed in this paragraph from the article:

"You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action,'' Professor Waters [Mary C. Waters, chair of Harvard's Sociology Department] said. "If it's about getting black faces at Harvard, then you're doing fine. If it's about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you're not doing well. And if it's about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you're not doing well, either."

In direct contradiction to Carlson's assertion that those quoted in the article would like Harvard to admit fewer Africans, the reporters write about Gates and Guinier, "Both Professor Gates and Professor Guinier emphasize that this is not about excluding immigrants, whom sociologists describe as a highly motivated, self-selected group."

• Carlson stated:

It turns out that the school's affirmative policies have produced a student body that is disproportionately African and West Indian. By some estimates, more than half of Harvard's black students are foreign-born.

In fact, the Times tells us that between one-half and two-thirds of the black students at Harvard, excluding those classified as foreign students, are "West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples." The article does not state how many of these students are foreign-born, as opposed to having immigrant or mixed-race parents.

• Carlson stated:

Well, say the progressives, affirmative action was designed to redress past injustice. And no one has suffered more injustice than black people in America.

Carlson did not specify whom he was referring to when he said "progressives"; regardless, none of the article's sources asserted that "no one has suffered more injustice than black people in America." In addition, Guinier is quoted saying "[T]hey [colleges and universities] are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves," elaborating on her general concern that colleges and universities "train and educate a representative group of future leaders."

• Carlson stated:

So by definition the son of a black doctor from Greenwich is more disadvantaged, and therefore more deserving, than a kid from Sierra Leone or the slums of Kingston.

No one quoted in the article expresses this view. In his statement, Carlson falsely implied that recent immigrants and their children are necessarily disadvantaged. In fact, the article states that, in Waters's view, the success of immigrants relative to African Americans is partially due to the fact that many West Indian immigrants "arrive with higher levels of education and professional experience."

• Carlson stated:

Working harder gives them [immigrants] an advantage. That's why they [immigrants] do it.

Some educators consider this deeply unfair. As one of them disapprovingly told the Times, "These immigrants represent Horatio Alger, not Brown versus the Board of Education."

Keep in mind, that's meant to be a criticism.

The educator Carlson quoted is Anthony Carnevale, who is described in the article as "a former vice president at the Educational Testing Service." Carnevale did not express the view that it is "deeply unfair" that "working harder" gives immigrants an advantage. He also did not criticize immigrants for doing so. Instead, he was expressing his opinion that, as he is quoted in the article, "The truth is, the higher-education community is no longer connected to the civil rights movement." Carlson truncated the sentence he quoted from Carnevale, leaving off the final phrase. The full quote was "These immigrants represent Horatio Alger, not Brown v. Board of Education and America's race history."

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