A Pulitzer Prize goes to a New York Times author who knowingly published lies
In August 2019, the New York Times debuted the 1619 Project, the brainchild of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Times staff writer. The premise was that 1619 marked the year in which the first African slaves came to America, permanently corrupting America's founding.
The 1619 Project was condemned for serious historical inaccuracies.* In her inaugural article — "Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true" — Hannah-Jones gave readers a foretaste of the errors that would follow in subsequent articles. Nevertheless, the Pulitzer committee awarded her its commentary award.
Most strikingly, Hannah-Jones originally wrote that Americans fought their revolution to preserve slavery, making the whole idea of American liberty a cynical cover for immoral greed:
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. At the time there were growing calls to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, which would have badly damaged the economies of colonies in both North and South.
There are two problems with the quoted passage. The first is that it is historically inaccurate. The second is that Hannah-Jones knew or should have known that it was incorrect.
Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University, fact-checked the article before publication. In March 2020, she revealed that Hannah-Jones "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."
Weeks before, I had received an email from a New York Times research editor. Because I'm an historian of African American life and slavery, in New York, specifically, and the pre-Civil War era more generally, she wanted me to verify some statements for the project. At one point, she sent me this assertion: "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. At the time there were growing calls to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, which would have badly damaged the economies of colonies in both North and South."
I vigorously disputed the claim. Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.
Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones' introductory essay.
It wasn't until Harris's article (which was published six months after the 1619 Project began and long after myriad other challenges) that the Times finally revised Hannah-Jones's words:
Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.
At the bottom of the article, on March 11, 2020, the Times added an update, stating:
A passage has been adjusted to make clear that a desire to protect slavery was among the motivations of some of the colonists who fought the Revolutionary War, not among the motivations of all of them. Read more.
If one "reads more," as I did, one finds a defensive article saying the Times still agrees with the principle that slavery drove the Revolution:
We stand behind the basic point, which is that among the various motivations that drove the patriots toward independence was a concern that the British would seek or were already seeking to disrupt in various ways the entrenched system of American slavery.
For the leftist Pulitzer Prize committee, though, accuracy was less important than the article's attack on America. So it was that, on Monday, Hannah-Jones walked away with a Pulitzer Prize:
The commentary award went to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, for her essay that served as the leading piece in The 1619 Project, a series centered on reframing United States history by focusing on the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans. The project, led by Ms. Hannah-Jones, included a broadsheet section and a podcast.
One should always remember that, in 1932, the Pulitzer committee gave one of its coveted awards to Walter Duranty, another New York Times writer, for his articles about the Soviet Union. In those articles, Duranty followed the Soviet party line, covering up USSR's open tyranny.
Duranty continued to cover for the Soviet government in post-award reports denying that there was a devastating famine in the USSR. This naturally covered up the fact that the Soviet government created the famine, partly through government planning and partly to destroy Ukrainian farmers, who were resistant to collectivism.
Even the Times conceded that Duranty's articles were "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper." We can now add Hannah-Jones's award-winning piece to that list.
* For more information about errors in the 1619 Project, here are helpful articles from The Daily Wire, The Daily Signal, The Foundation for Economic Education, Reason, and The New York Post, to name just a few. Also, as an aside, the Irish were the preferred slaves in British colonies, but they stubbornly kept dying from malaria.