When I wrote an opinion piece on May 21 basically questioning an incredibly misleading piece by Nate Cohn of The New York Times’ “Upshot” blog, I never would have thought that 1) Latino Rebels would still be covering the story; 2) The Times would not yet respond to my emails about Cohn’s reporting; and 3) Cohn would write another piece defending his initial piece.
But that is where we are as of this morning. Cohn and his editors have forged ahead with the following post, “Pinpointing Another Reason That More Hispanics Are Identifying as White.” Ironically, Cohn’s latest piece (which once again does not include any actual reporting, just citations to previous studies) used a HuffPost entry by Manuel Pastor which was actually highly critical of Cohn’s overgeneralizations.
While Cohn spends a large portion of his new essay discussing one of Pastor’s main arguments (that the Census question changed when it comes to how Latinos self-identify racially), a lot is left off the table in his new Times piece. For example, why didn’t Cohn cite or discuss Pastor’s concluding paragraphs?
Much of the previous work in this area has suggested that new immigrants might be confused by U.S. racial categories and so mark “other”; with more time in country, they will settle into being white. But our regressions indicated that, controlling for other factors, the more time you spend in America, the less likely you are to think you’re white.
In our view, there may be something about being “othered” by the society that drives Latino racial identification away from rather than toward whiteness. All this seems relevant in light of the current heated debates about immigration, particularly in places like Arizona and Alabama (and even Congress).
In any case, to those who follow the discussion of race —and to the raft of colleagues that sent me a note about the piece by Cohn— a more nuanced understanding of the data and the questions being asked would probably lead one away from a breathless conclusion that a new and fundamental shift in Latino assimilation is occurring.
Furthermore, Cohn cites two other studies to bolster his claim. The 2011 Latino Decisions post adds this concluding statement:
Although it is far too early to draw any conclusions from the apparent rise in white identification among Latinos in the most recent Census, this is an issue that will surely generate wider discussion and speculation as it did following the release of the 2000 numbers. For example, some contend that the high numbers of Latinos who identify as white racially makes a majority-minority population in the U.S. a distant reality. Furthermore, some demographers have suggested that the broadened measure of white in the 2010 Census could lead to a major shift in our understanding of race in the United States. While the implications of this measurement change are not yet understood, it is clear that how Latinos think about their identities will influence the way in which the nation defines race and ethnicity in the future.
The other study Cohn cites for his case? A Pew Research report from 2004. 2004.
Again, I am not here to “denounce” Cohn or his two pieces (yes, an actual word used against me in my critique). He can have a different opinion, and that’s fine. Nevertheless, like I have already said almost two weeks ago, I am still perplexed by this sudden “White Latino” narrative that “Upshot” is trying to promote, especially when it incorrectly reports certain conclusions. Latinidad without Latinos—although at least Cohn used Pastor this time around and finally admitted that there is nuance.
Nonetheless, it is clear to me that Cohn should have done a bit more reporting in sharing his first piece, and it is still surprising to me that no one at The Times has even answered the following two May 22 emails I have sent three times to Cohn’s editor and shared as well with the outlet’s public editor:
My name is Julio Ricardo Varela. I wrote an opinion piece yesterday for LatinoRebels.com criticizing a post on Upshot called “More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White” by Nate Cohn. Since the publication of my critique, it has come to my attention that Mr. Cohn never contacted the study’s co-authors nor did he have a copy of the any of the study’s findings or presentations, since such a study does not yet exist. The entire NYT post was based on a Pew blog post which the author based on a summary of a presentation she attended. No study was formally made public, thus leading to a serious misinterpretation of the data. The Pew author also did not work from actual materials from the co-authors. I was also told by those close to the session that Mr. Cohn’s did not accurately depict the intent of the study or its preliminary conclusions.
Can you let me know if anyone in the NYT consulted with the study’s co-authors before publishing Mr. Cohn’s piece? Or whether the NYT received the initial study from the co-authors?
I am writing a follow-up news story for LatinoRebels.com and wanted to see if you or anyone else at the NYT can comment on my questions.
Here is the quote LR received from one of the study’s co-authors:
“The New York Times post included two numbers from our study that are correct: 2.5 million and 1.3 million. Our paper does not involve any interpretation of why people are changing and the inferences about that are entirely his. Also, the New York Times post focuses only on one aspect of the paper, rather than the full set of results.
We plan to post a Census Bureau blog with a few more details soon and then the public paper will be coming out in late summer, we expect. We will send you both when they are ready.”
Am wondering if you or anyone at NYT would care to comment for the story. Am on deadline, but let me know? Thank you.
This is no longer about Cohn’s conclusions and generalizations. It is about how, as Pastor himself writes, “when you discover a surprising fact, you could be on to something—but you could also just be wrong.” Why won’t The Times admit that it dropped the ball on some basic reporting here? That is the issue here. Journalists make mistakes and so do editors. Admit to them and move on. Just give us an answer instead of doubling down. Quite frankly, doubling down sends the wrong message. Again.
By the way, the Times decided to update the previous image of some figure changing skin tones. Here is the new one which goes with Cohn’s second piece:
Now they’re just mocking anyone who has tried to call attention to what was shoddy reporting from the very beginning.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.