Factual Reckoning: Nikole Hannah-Jones

Contrary to New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the controversy surrounding her quest for tenure at the University of North Carolina (UNC) has nothing whatsoever to do with gender or race discrimination.

Hannah-Jones went on national television Tuesday to decline UNC’s begrudging offer of tenure, and to announce she has accepted another tenure offer, at the historically black institution, Howard University.

She said she couldn’t work at UNC because the trustees subjected her to gender and race discrimination by demonstrating reluctance to grant her tenure.

But that’s not what this is really about.

Accuracy?

Hannah-Jones was the editor of the 1619 Project, which claimed to “reframe” America’s history to define the nation’s “true founding” as one rooted in slavery rather than liberty.

Hannah-Jones, and the NYT refuse to acknowledge that the central premise of the 2019 project in Hannah- Jones lead essay is indisputably wrong. She wrote:

 “One critical reason that the colonists declared their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery in the colonies, which had produced tremendous wealth.”

This is false.

Hannah-Jones and the NYT knew it was false prior to publication when apparently the only historian they consulted, Leslie M. Harris, an African American professor of history at Northwestern University, told them so. Prof. Harris said slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.

But Hannah-Jones, a journalist, knew better than Prof. Harris and the NYT published the statement anyway.

This resulted in an outcry from some of the most eminent U.S. historians of the era, whom Ms. Hannah Jones dismissed as “old white men.”

The NYT tried to ignored the outcry but it grew and the NYT was forced to respond. The NYT stated that it had “adjusted” a passage in the essay to read that protecting slavery was the main reason that “some of” the colonists fought to rebel from England.

Some of the colonists? Who?

Gordon S. Wood, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and perhaps the leading scholar of the Revolutionary War era, is quoted as stating, “I don’t know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves. No colonist expressed alarm that the mother country was out to abolish slavery in 1776.”

The NYT then proceeded to surreptitiously correct falsehoods and mistakes in the project, without public acknowledgment.

Undue Influence?

Meanwhile, a member of the seven member Pulitzer Board, Brent Staples, an African American who sits on the NYT editorial board, persuaded the Pulitzer Board to grant Hannah-Jones a Pulitzer Prize. So America’s top prize for journalism went to a single essay that required a correction and still rests on a premise for which there is no evidence.

Technically, Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer was for “opinion writing containing well-reasoned and compelling argument on a topic or topics of public interest, whether originally researched or reported, informed by personal or analytical experience.”  

The Pulitzer Center now is pushing a NYT educational curriculum based on The 1619 Project to teachers across the country.

It’s About Journalism

What this is really about is the state of journalism today.

Hannah-Jones failed to properly research the subject matter of her essay and then ignored the warning proffered by Prof. Harris.

In what can only be described as a spectacular display of hubris, Hannah-Jones and the NYT refused to correct an obvious falsehood and instead issued a clarification that is unproven at best.

Now this stew of journalistic malpractice based on falsehoods, radical ideology and deception is being taught to unsuspecting school children.

It should not be surprising that four UNC trustees would be concerned about Hannah-Jones’s ability to teach future generations of journalists. What is surprising is that nine UNC trustees voted to grant Hannah-Jones tenure.

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