The 2019-2020 Pulitzer Prize Board announced Monday afternoon that it was awarding New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones the Pulitzer Prize in commentary for an essay for The 1619 Project, an initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019 to mark the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. I The piece was falsely premised on the claim that the primary reason American colonists revolted against England was to preserve slavery.
Northwestern University historian Leslie Harris, whose area of expertise is African American life and slavery, assisted in fact-checking the essay.
In a Politico piece that ran two months ago, Harris said that although the Times had hired her to confirm the veracity of the essay’s claims, the newspaper ignored her input.
“On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against with her fact-checker: that the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America,” Harris wrote.
Less than a week later, and seven months after the Times published The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones conceded that she got it wrong. In an “update to The 1619 Project,” she said she meant to say “some of” the colonists fought to preserve slavery — not all of them.
A day later, Hannah-Jones excused her error: “In attempting to summarize and streamline, journalists can sometimes lose important context and nuance. I did that here,” she tweeted.
Becket Adams argued in the Washington Examiner that “there are a few things suggesting Hannah-Jones and the New York Times corrected the record — not out of a love truth and accuracy but begrudgingly and half-heartedly. First, there is the lengthy editor’s note the paper published this week arguing her original error was, essentially, fake but accurate. There is also the fact that her essay is still titled, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.’”
Adams also observed that the correction came only after Hannah-Jones and the Times were called out on their inaccurate portrayal.
The Pulitzer Board nonetheless rewarded them.
National Review senior writer Dan McLaughlin observed, “The most fundamental fault of The 1619 Project was precisely its combination of ideological goals & poor quality control. That lies directly at the feet of its editing. A good & honest editor could & should have turned its raw materials into a genuinely educational product.”
But instead of “a genuinely educational product,” readers were given the ideological rantings of a leftist with an ignoble agenda — to revise history to “prove” that the United States was founded on racism.
Despite its revisionist history, other journalists applauded the Pulitzer Board’s decision.
Wrote John Haltiwanger, senior politics reporter for Business Insider, “The pushback to the 1619 project is emblematic of why it’s so necessary. History is not just about facts/dates, it’s the study of the interpretation of events. White men have dominated historical discourse in the US, offering a narrow, skewed view of this nation’s complex history.”
But the Northwestern historian who “listened in stunned silence” as The 1619 Project’s false narrative was read to her, is neither white nor a male. She’s an African American woman who knows and cherishes fact over fairy tales.
Jeet Heer, national-affairs correspondent for The Nation, also believed that history shouldn’t be hampered by facts and dates — not if they get in the way of a good story.
“In all seriousness, the way to judge a work of history is by the productive debates it provokes,” he tweeted. “’1619’ generated some very dumb knee-jerk reactions but also a lot of serious conversation. I think it’s going to be at the center of conversation for many years.”
Both the “dumb knee-jerk reactions” and the “serious conversation” that The 1619 Project generated were prompted by the same thing — a lie.
The New York Times was the beacon of truth back in the day. The joke now is that its motto, “All the news that’s fit to print,” has morphed into “All the news that fits, we print.”
And the Pulitzer has gone the way of the Nobel prize — in particular its prize for peace. But awarding former Vice President Al Gore for espousing theories of which he has no training or understanding, and awarding former President Barack Obama for what the committee thought he would do in the future, has wiped the luster off the Nobel prize.
By awarding Hannah-Jones for “reporting” what she wanted history to be rather than what it was, the once-great Pulitzer Board rewarded lies over truth, fiction disguised as fact.
And it’s one more example that we can no longer look up to the institutions that we once championed and held in high esteem.
Fake news with an agenda is suddenly valued over the unvarnished truth. And that’s profoundly sad.