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Group of intellectuals calls on Pulitzer committee to revoke ‘1619 Project’ prize

Since snaring its first one in 1918, The New York Times has won 133 Pulitzer Prizes, far more than any other newspaper. 

But America’s “newspaper of record” has not been held accountable for some of its prize-winning epic fails. 

For example, in 2003 the Pulitzer committee announced that it would not revoke the paper’s 1932 Pulitzer for the now thoroughly discredited reporting of Russia correspondent Walter Duranty. Duranty essentially covered up the crimes of Russian dictator Josef Stalin that killed countless numbers of his own people. 

The Times also gets to keep its 2018 award for what was described as its “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.” Now, we learn almost daily revelations that the claims of President Donald Trump’s alleged “collusion” with Kremlin forces were concocted, and actually a ruse to cover Hillary’s tracks.

But some won’t give up in making the Times acknowledge when its work is garbage.

On Oct. 6, 28 intellectuals affiliated with the National Association of Scholars posted an open letter urging the Pulitzer board to rescind the prize awarded this year to New York Times editorialist Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in “The 1619 Project.”

“That essay was entitled, ‘Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written.’ But it turns out the article itself was false when written, making a large claim that protecting the institution of slavery was a primary motive for the American Revolution, a claim for which there is simply no evidence.” the letter states.

The 1619 Project, the letter continues, “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.”

“The Project as a whole was marred by similar faults,” the authors add, including “serious factual errors, specious generalizations, and forced interpretations.” 

Those concerns were raised, they note, not only by five of America’s leading historians, as well as scholars sympathetic to the social justice goal of the 1619 Project, but also by Leslie Harris, a historian who fact-checked the works, and warned of its shortcomings.

Yet Hannah-Jones and her editors dismissed them outright, asserting that historical facts were open to interpretation, they wrote. Additionally, as the criticism mounted, Hannah-Jones turned to argue that her piece and the Project were a work of journalism, not history. 

“Hannah-Jones’s refusal to correct her errors or engage her critics, we have recently learned, was accompanied by surreptitious efforts by The New York Times to alter the record of what it had published in the original magazine of August 18, 2019,” the letter states.

That effort, they wrote, involved “without public explanation or acknowledgment of its actions,” changing the digital version to downplay the Project’s fundamental premise: that slavery was the reason for America’s founding – an alteration that was not caught until September 2020, when historian Phillip Magness compared the original and digital versions of the essay in Quillette.  

“The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A ‘sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,’ as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish ‘deeply reported’ falsehoods,” the authors argue.

“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,” the letter argues.

“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.”

No, it obviously doesn’t, especially since some school districts treated the 1619 Project as actual, accurate history and began force-feeding it to students. 

The Times lied about Stalin, and prospered. The Times lied about Trump, and prospered. And the Times lied about the Founders – and if history is a guide, Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer is as safe as the day she received it.

PHOTO: Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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