Roy Beck's picture


  by  Roy Beck

Members of Congress and Washington-based journalists are mourning the death of veteran New York Times reporter Robert Pear, 69, of complications from a stroke suffered last week.

Pear is being extolled for his meticulous, fair-minded, no-nonsense approach to complicated policy topics. And that was the way that we at NumbersUSA experienced him in his occasional coverage of us and our policy topic. Colleagues and sources describe him as always looking for stories that were "hidden in plain sight" which all other journalists missed.

That was what happened when Pear "discovered" NumbersUSA.


On July 14, 2007, Pear wrote the story that ended our decade of trying to keep our online activist faxing system to Congress under the radar. His Times story provided the nation with a specialized glimpse into how the Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty that was supported by seemingly every power bloc could have gone down in defeat in a Senate vote on June 28.

Two weeks after the vote, Pear gave his answer in a story entitled:

Little-Known Group Claims Win on Immigration

We had not contacted Pear. He had tracked down this inside story on his own and then called me and our Director of Government Relations Rosemary Jenks -- as well as some of our critics.

At that moment, our grassroots army had grown too big and too effective to remain behind the scenes any longer.

As I answered Pear's questions, I began the shift in which NumbersUSA would have to publicly own its level of influence and develop an entirely different strategy as a highly public participant in the give and take of immigration politics, regularly in the nation's media and fully known by the Members of Congress and their staffs.

Twelve years later, the first paragraphs of the story are worth enjoying again:

When a comprehensive immigration bill collapsed last month on the Senate floor, it was a victory for a small group that had been lobbying Congress for a decade to reduce the number of immigrants -- legal and illegal -- in the United States.

The group, Numbers USA, tracked every twist and turn of the bill. Its members flooded the Senate with more than a million faxes, sent through the organization's Web site. It supplied arguments and information to senators opposing the bill.

"It was a David-and-Goliath struggle," said Roy H. Beck, the president of Numbers USA, who had been preparing for this moment since 1996, when he wrote a book titled "The Case Against Immigration."

Supporters of the bill included President Bush, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the high-tech industry, the Roman Catholic Church, many Hispanic organizations, farmers, restaurants, hotels and the construction industry.

"The bill had support from the opinion elite in this country," Mr. Beck said. "But we built a grass-roots army, consumed with passion for a cause, and used the power of the Internet to go around the elites and defeat a disastrous amnesty bill."


Although Pear did his journalistic duty to get quotes from our opponents for his 2007 story, I believe his even-handed treatment of us was somewhat influenced by his knowledge that what NumbersUSA was advocating was truly inside the mainstream. And that knowledge would have been planted at least 12 years earlier when he wrote what has been a classic story around NumbersUSA since it was created in 1996.

On June 8, 1995, Pear wrote a story under this headline:

Clinton Embraces a Proposal To Cut Immigration by a Third

The White House today welcomed a Federal advisory panel's recommendation to cut legal immigration by one-third. But the proposals met fierce opposition from Hispanic, Asian-American, Roman Catholic and Jewish groups, as well as from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Barbara Jordan, chairwoman of the panel, the Commission on Immigration Reform, delivered the plan to President Clinton, and he congratulated the panel. "Consistent with my own views, the commission's recommendations are pro-family, pro-work, pro-naturalization," he said.

Mr. Clinton said the panel had "laid out a road map for Congress to consider." His press secretary, Michael D. McCurry, said that "the President indicated to Barbara Jordan today that he will support such reductions," which would represent the biggest change in immigration policy in more than 40 years.

It was a different time that, in tone and treatment, sounds like two centuries in the past rather than the actual two decades. The Democratic President was endorsing immigration changes that many journalists today treat as right-wing fringe and dangerous.

In that story, Robert Pear included differing views of the proposals but without labels and judgment. We can hope that the Robert Pear style of classic 20th century journalism will long survive him and be a model for emerging journalists.

ROY BECK is CEO & Founder of NumbersUSA (and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Jouralism and former congressional correspondent)

Updated: Thu, May 23rd 2019 @ 7:35pm EDT

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