A Pulitzer Prize that should be revoked

An open letter released today calls on the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the Prize for Commentary awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in “The 1619 Project.” The letter is signed by 21 Scholars and public writers. Among them are Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Kesler, Roger Kimball, Stanley Kurtz, Glenn Loury, Wilfred McClay, Peter Wood, and Jean Yarbrough.

For reasons I discussed in this post, the “1619 Project” would be better called “The New York Times’ Hate America project.” John attacked the Times’ slander of our country here. In this post, I took on the Project’s absurd claim that the American Revolution was, in significant part, the result of a desire to preserve slavery in America.

I believe the Pulitzer Board awarded its prize to Hannah-Jones and, in effect to the Project, precisely because her essay viciously attacked America, If anything, the Board likely regarded the distortions, inaccuracies, and half truths as a feature, not a bug. Thus, I very much doubt that the Board will revoke the prize.

However, the open letter serves as an important rebuke. We should never stop reminding the public of the 1619 Project’s errors and distortions, or of the way despisers of America have glorified this hateful attempt to rewrite our history.

The open letter begins this way:

When the Board announced the prize on May 4, 2020, it praised Hannah-Jones for “a sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.” Note well the last five words. Clearly the award was meant not merely to honor this one isolated essay, but the Project as a whole, with its framing contention that the year 1619, the date when some twenty Africans arrived at Jamestown, ought to be regarded as the nation’s “true founding,” supplanting the long-honored date of July 4, 1776, which marked the emergence of the United States as an independent nation.

Beginning almost immediately after its publication, though, the essay and the Project ran into controversy. It has been subjected to searching criticism by many of the foremost historians of our time and by the Times’ own fact checker. The scrutiny has left the essay discredited, so much so that the Times has felt the need to go back and change a crucial passage in it, softening but not eliminating its unsupported assertion about slavery and the Revolution.

(Emphasis added)

Stanley Kurtz has more on the “stealth editing” of the passage about slavery and the Revolution. He also points out that soon after President Trump began this summer to denounce attacks on our history, the Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the Project’s lead essay, began falsely to deny that she or the 1619 Project had ever asserted that the year 1619 was America’s “true founding.”

In drive-by style, Hannah-Jones fired shots at America and then tried to flee, lest her screed become a campaign liability for the Democrats.

The open letter continues:

The Project as a whole was marred by similar faults. Prominent historians, most of them deeply sympathetic to the Project’s goal of bringing the African American experience more fully into our understanding of the American past, nevertheless felt obliged to point out, in public statements beginning in September 2019, the Project’s serious factual errors, specious generalizations, and forced interpretations.

Hannah-Jones did not refute these criticisms or answer them in a respectful or meaningful way. Instead, she dismissed them. In December 2019 five prominent historians wrote a joint letter to The New York Times expressing their “strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project.”1 The New York Times Magazine’s editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein brushed aside the letter with the explanation that “historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices.”

True enough; but he refrained from also mentioning that the advance of historical understanding always involves the testing of new interpretations through a process of open criticism and the free exchange of ideas in honest debate, the very things that Hannah-Jones has consistently disdained. Despite this stonewalling, the criticisms of The 1619 Project continued, notably in another joint letter signed by twelve other historians on December 30. Mr. Silverstein again responded saying, that the Times’s “research desk” had examine their criticisms and “concluded no corrections are warranted.”

(Footnotes omitted)

Perhaps most telling of all is this:

On March 6, 2020, historian Leslie M. Harris, one of the Times’s own fact-checkers, revealed that she had warned the newspaper that an assertion that “the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America” was plainly false. Harris identified numerous other mistakes that she had pointed out to the Times in advance of the publication of The 1619 Project, none of which was corrected.

[After Harris revealed this] the false claims were erased or altered with no explanation, and Hannah-Jones then proceeded to claim that she had never said or written what in fact she has said and written repeatedly, assertions that the Project materials also made. Fortunately, we have a documentary record to the contrary, in the form of the original publication, in addition to extensive video footage of Hannah-Jones (and Silverstein) making precisely the claims that she now denies having made.

The Times deserves a prize for duplicity and Hannah-Jones deserves one for outright lying. Instead, they have a Pulitzer Prize.

The open letter concludes:

The Pulitzer Prize Board erred in awarding a prize to Hannah-Jones’s profoundly flawed essay, and through it to a Project that, despite its worthy intentions, is disfigured by unfounded conjectures and patently false assertions. To err is human. But now that it has come to light that these materials have been “corrected” without public disclosure and Hannah-Jones has falsely put forward claims that she never said or wrote what she plainly did, the offense is far more serious.

It is time for the Pulitzer Prize Board to acknowledge its error rather than compound it. Given the glaring historical fallacy at the heart of its account, and the subsequent breaches of core journalistic ethics by both Hannah-Jones and the Times, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written” does not deserve the honor conferred upon it. Nor does The 1619 Project of which it is a central part, and which the Board seeks to honor by honoring Hannah-Jones’s essay. The Board should acknowledge that its award was an error. It can and should correct that error by withdrawing the prize.

Absolutely. I’m betting, though, that the Board won’t withdraw it.

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