EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is an extended version of a Letter to the Editor that ran in Politico on February 17, 2012. We encourage you to visit the posting and add your comments at the end of the article.
On February 10, Politico posted a story with the provocative headline "'Oppo' men break silence on Kris Kobach." Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State who played a central role in promoting attrition through enforcement laws in states like Arizona and Alabama. The "'Oppo' men" are, according to Politico, "seasoned opposition researchers" Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, and they broke their silence about...well, nothing, it turns out, except a couple of false accusations. Politico gave the story 1,137 words anyway.
According to Politico, Huffman and Rejebian "have decided to identify Kobach -- an unpaid adviser to Romney who they say received funding from a 'notoriously racist group' and once justified apartheid -- because 'it is actually important now.'" Sounds juicy, but where's the beef?
For reasons known only to Politico, readers have to get down to the 12th paragraph before Politico provides any details. The "nortoriously racist group" is eventually identified as the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC. USIRPAC, according to it's website, "unites the concerns of the vast majority of American citizens who want their immigration laws enforced and overall immigration reduced to a level that our country historically has been able to assimilate." USIRPAC has never been labelled for doing anything racist, although the SPLC has criticized it for appealing to environmentalists. So much for that.
Readers then have to slog through to the 22nd paragraph to learn that Huffman and Rejebian's accusation that Kobach endorsed apartheid is the opposite of what Kobach's Harvard thesis (which Havard honored with an award) argued. "[I]t appears that Kobach’s words were indeed taken out of context," Politico wrote. "Kobach was citing the opinion of others who believed apartheid would lead to stability, but went on to point out that 'many [businesses] gradually concluded after witnessing racial unrest that apartheid was unable to guarantee stability.'" If this story were a sandwich, it would have a lot of dressing but no meat!
Politico readers had to wade through 836 words before learning that Kobach is falsely accused of racism. Anyone who stopped half-way through the story would have been completely mislead!
In the most revealing part of the story, Huffman and Rejebian described their process:
"'Michael and I are always excited to point the finger at racists,' Huffman writes in their book. 'We were pleased, therefore, to discover that the Kansas candidate was also linked to the leader of a radical group that denigrated the region’s growing Latino population. Even more exciting was that the candidate himself had written that apartheid could be justified in the name of political stability.'"
Got that? They decided Kobach was racist before they they went looking for evidence to support their theory - an admission Politico ignored. Why did they assume Kobach was a racist? Because he opposes illegal immigration? Probably. But Politico didn't ask.
Since the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill failed to pass, advocates of legalization and opponents of enforcement have focused more of their energy on maligning the character and motives of people who disagree with them than on debating them. Sadly, Politico's story is an example of their success. Politico's reporter could have questioned Kobach, Huffman, and Rejebian about the nuts and bolts of the attrition through enforcement strategy. Instead, readers got a toothless attempt at character assassination.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA