There aren’t any editorial page editors I want to see fired, at least that I can think of off the top of my head. If I did, I’d recommend they allow Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas to write an opinion piece for them.
That’s pretty much how James Bennet of The New York Times lost his job on Sunday. Bennet allowed the publication of an Op-Ed by Cotton in which he advocated using the military to quell unrest in major cities.
Not that this wasn’t in the offing before this; according to The Associated Press, Bennet “had received some heat for adding new voices, including conservative columnist Bret Stephens.”
When Bret Stephens is too controversial for people to stomach, you get a pretty good idea about how The Times rolls.
It turns out Bennet was one of two editors who resigned over the weekend after they published pieces that insinuated maybe, perhaps riots which destroyed property were kind of sort of bad ideas and ought to be stopped. (Stan Wischnowski of the Philadelphia Inquirer left the paper after publishing a piece titled “Buildings Matter, Too.”)
Cotton’s opinion was, of course, an opinion, and by the time the debate had started to die down, so had the riots, and whether buildings mattered too was largely a moot concern as was the need to deploy the military.
But, hey. In addition to one editorial page editor forced out at The New York Times, one of their most controversial writers also managed to accidentally put herself on blast over the whole thing.
If you’re not familiar with Nikole Hannah-Jones, you’re probably familiar with The New York Times initiative she helmed: The “1619 Project.”
“The ‘1619 Project’ was launched in August with a 100-page spread in the Times’s Sunday magazine,” The Wall Street Journal’s Elliot Kaufman wrote last December.
“It intends to ‘reframe the country’s history’ by crossing out 1776 as America’s founding date and substituting 1619, the year 20 or so African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va. The project has been celebrated up and down the liberal establishment, praised by Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.”
Hannah-Jones wasn’t too pleased with Cotton’s Op-Ed in the paper — and on CNN this past weekend, she let host Brian Stelter know it.
She was asked about the piece and whether it represented liberal intolerance — particularly since part of the reason why Bennet got forced out was because of pressure from Times’ staffers who went very public with their distaste for the piece.
“Sen. Cotton certainly has the right to write and say whatever he wants in this country, but we as a news organization should not be running something that is offering misinformation to the public unchecked,” Hannah-Jones replied.
.@nhannahjones, creator of the 1619 project, on Tom Cotton’s op-ed: [He] certainly has the right to write and say whatever he wants in this country, but we as a news organization should not be running something that is offering misinformation to the public unchecked. pic.twitter.com/0jCHT6gnyy
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) June 7, 2020
As word choice goes, Hannah-Jones probably could have done better.
As much as the “1619 Project” has gotten plaudits for being a thought-provoking look at our history — at least for those who needed to be provoked into thinking that slavery constituted part of our history, into remembering that 1619 was the year they were brought here, and into reading a version of events that contained no facts that might contradict their worldview — it’s also gotten criticized for being really bad history “that is offering misinformation to the public unchecked,” as its curator might say.
She won a Pulitzer for it, though, so at least she’ll have that over Cotton. As for the rest of it, well …
In December, five historians — Sean Wilentz, James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum and James Oakes — signed a letter that was published in the Dec. 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine about the “1619 Project.”
In the letter, the historians said that they were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.
“These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’ They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism,” the letter read.
“They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only ‘white historians’ — has affirmed that displacement. On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain ‘in order to ensure slavery would continue.’
“This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that ‘for the most part,’ black Americans have fought their freedom struggles ‘alone.’”
The paper’s response was somewhat predictable, saying in part: “Though we respect the work of the signatories, appreciate that they are motivated by scholarly concern and applaud the efforts they have made in their own writings to illuminate the nation’s past, we disagree with their claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.”
Kaufman’s piece in The Wall Street Journal contained even more pointed criticism.
“A September essay for the World Socialist Web Site called the project a ‘racialist falsification’ of history. That didn’t get much attention, but in November the interviews with the historians went viral.
‘I wish my books would have this kind of reaction,'” Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood told The Wall Street Journal in an email.
“‘It still strikes me as amazing why the NY Times would put its authority behind a project that has such weak scholarly support.’ He adds that fellow historians have privately expressed their agreement. [Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James] McPherson coolly describes the project’s ‘implicit position that there have never been any good white people, thereby ignoring white radicals and even liberals who have supported racial equality.’”
This isn’t just the whinging of “old, white male historians,” as Hannah-Jones describes it. These are serious issues.
Hannah-Jones makes very incendiary claims and then didn’t have anything there to back them up with. Her defense seems to be that she’s part of the new vanguard of historian — the kind that’s “with it” and “woke” to decentralizing the narrative of America from whiteness.
Yet, the errors in the project have been pointed out by historians for quite some time now.
If “old, white male historians” actually turn out to be right about a narrative that’s riddled with errors, what does that say about Hannah-Jones?
And, more importantly, what does that say about a newspaper that pushed out an editor for publishing Sen. Cotton’s opinion as opinion when Hannah-Jones’ opinion was published as fact?
If only we could get her to approve the publishing of a Tom Cotton Op-Ed. By golly, they’d pay attention then.
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