Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” apologized Sunday evening for comments about Hispanics and assimilation he made earlier in the day on the network’s “Meet the Press.”
“I feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture,” Mr. Brokaw tweeted. “I never intended to disparage any segment of our rich, diverse society which defines who we are.”
Mr. Brokaw, who retired as anchor in 2004 and currently serves as a special correspondent for NBC, had nonchalantly said that Hispanics should make a greater effort to blend into American culture. His comments, made during a discussion about President Trump’s desired border wall, led to an immediate backlash.
“Hispanics should work harder at assimilation,” Mr. Brokaw said. “That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. They ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all of their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities, and that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.”
Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for “PBS NewsHour” and a former New York Times reporter, was also on the panel and responded to Mr. Brokaw’s comments.
“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,” Ms. Alcindor said.
Among those who criticized Mr. Brokaw was Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas. He explained in a Twitter thread that even though there are generations of Hispanics in the United States, they are, in his opinion, never truly considered American.
“For a celebrated journalist who spent years chronicling American society you seem stunningly ignorant of the Hispanic community in this country,” Mr. Castro tweeted. “Unfortunate to see xenophobia pass for elevated political commentary.”
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists reprehended Mr. Brokaw in a statement released on Sunday.
“Brokaw’s comments also ignore the fact that most U.S. Hispanics are born in the United States; English is their native language,” the statement read.
The organization also criticized him for what it viewed as an insufficient apology.
“The ‘sorry some Hispanics were offended’ apology tweeted by Tom Brokaw earlier this evening is not an apology at all,” the group said. “It only further demonstrates Brokaw’s lack of understanding of what forced assimilation does to communities.”
In a 2016 national survey of Latinos, Pew found that 41 percent of Hispanic adults between the ages of 18 and 35 use English as their dominant language. The study found that 40 percent of Hispanics in the same age group are also bilingual.
Another Pew study found that Americans with Hispanic ancestry are less likely to identify as Hispanic as generations go on. By the third generation, the share that self-identifies as Hispanic falls to 77 percent.
“Assimilation is denying one culture for the other,” said Hugo Balta, the president of NAHJ and a senior producer at MSNBC. “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 multiethnic, multilingual society.”
Mr. Brokaw opened his commentary by claiming that the “Republican side” does not want their children to marry Hispanics.
“A lot of this, we don’t want to talk about. But the fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinary, important new constituent in American politics, Hispanics, who will come here and all be Democrats,” he said. “I hear when I push people a little harder, ‘I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’ I mean, that’s also a part of it.”
One of former President George H.W. Bush’s grandchildren took offense to the “brown babies” comment.
“With all due respect @Tombrokaw 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,” tweeted George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner and a son of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.
Mr. Bush and his two siblings, who are Mexican-American, were once famously referred to as “the little brown ones” by their late grandfather, who claimed to use the term affectionately.
As the anchor of “Nightly News,” Mr. Brokaw was the face of NBC for more than 20 years. Since he stepped down in 2004, he has appeared on the network’s news shows, most often to discuss politics, elections and historical events. Mr. Brokaw has also produced and directed documentaries and special segments.
Mr. Brokaw sent out a bizarre string of tweets along with his apology, at one point writing, “My tweet portal is whack.”
“Finally, I am sorry I failed to convey my strong belief that diversity, dynamic and inclusive, is what makes America,” he said.