The New York Times has been awarded another Pulitzer Prize for printing fake news. On May 4 Nikole Hannah-Jones received the Pulitzer’s commentary award “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.” Once again, the paper’s commitment to ideology over facts has been rewarded by the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Pulitzer Prizes were presented in 2018 to the New York Times and Washington Post for their “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage” of something that, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to the Department of Justice, did not exist. The winning work included 20 stories 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.” The New York Times even boasted that their article “Trump Team Met with Lawyer Linked to Kremlin During Campaign” revealed to Mueller the meeting’s truly nefarious purpose, prompting Mueller to further investigate it. But the New York Times was wrong.
Despite the accolades and relentless coverage, the narrative presented by these titans of the news industry proved to be false. Attorney General William Barr told the press on April 18, 2019:
The report details efforts by the Internal Research Agency, a Russian company with close ties to the Russian government, to sow social discord among American voters through disinformation and social media operations. … But the Special Counsel found no evidence that any Americans—including anyone associated with the Trump campaign—conspired or coordinated with the Russian government or the IRA in carrying out this illegal scheme. Indeed, as the report states, “[t]he investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.” Put another way, the Special Counsel found no “collusion” by any Americans in the IRA’s illegal activity.
Unembarrassed by such blatantly inaccurate reporting which sought to re-frame the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times almost immediately proceeded to revise other portions of American history. The Times launched the 1619 Project, explaining, “The goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
August 1619 is the year slaves were first brought to Jamestown. Writing in the National Review, Timothy Sandefur explains, “The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’ purports to ‘reframe’ American history by positing not only that the United States was founded ‘as a slavocracy,’ but that ‘nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional’ is the result of ‘slavery—and the anti-black racism it required.’” Hannah-Jones even went so far as to present the American Revolutionary War as a response to Great Britain threatening the slave trade.
This claim received immediate resistance from historians. Gordon Wood, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, wrote the Times, saying, “There is no evidence in 1776 of a rising movement to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, as the 1619 Project erroneously asserts, nor is there any evidence the British government was eager to do so.”
Gordon Wood was among five leading historians who wrote the New York Times forcefully declaring, “This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding—yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false.” They proceeded to allege, “some of the other material in the project is distorted,” while “still other material is misleading.”
This is the very definition of fake news, and it is particularly troubling considering that the Times also produced a curriculum designed to inject this new version of American history into schools. Already the curriculum has been adopted in more than 3,500 classrooms in all 50 states. And publishing giant Random House is developing four 1619-themed books, including a special illustrated edition and a graphic novelization of the project.
Incredibly, none of the leading scholars of the whole period from the Revolution to the Civil War were consulted before the essay was published. According to James Oakes, award winning author and Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the claims that slavery is the uniquely American “original sin” and that slavery or racism is built into the DNA of America “are really dangerous tropes. They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical.” History is literally being re-written.
In a Politico opinion piece titled “I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me,” expert on African-American history and Professor of History at Northwestern University Leslie Harris writes, “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.” According to Harris, “Slavery in the Colonies faced no immediate threat from Great Britain, so colonists wouldn’t have needed to secede to protect it.” Moreover, “The paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619.” Nevertheless, the Times chose to ignore Harris’ critique—a position the paper originally defended before eventually correcting.
The very idea that this essay which is “riddled with mistakes and exaggerations” would receive our nation’s highest journalism award should be an outrage to anyone who cherishes truth and journalistic integrity. Historian, senior research scholar in the Council of the Humanities, and director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship at Princeton University Allen Guelzo writes:
The awarding of a Pulitzer Prize for commentary to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in The New York Times Magazine’s ‘The 1619 Project’ comes on the heels of the severe criticism that has been heaped on the project by at least two groups of American historians, by African American activists (led by Robert Woodson and the 1776 Initiative), and by numerous other academics and journalists (among them Cathy Young, Phillip Magness, John McWhorter, and Lucas Morel).
What is most surprising is that the Pulitzer has been awarded precisely for Hannah-Jones’ lead essay—even after one of the 1619 Project’s consulting historians pointed out errors that Hannah-Jones had waved away, forcing The New York Times to issue a “correction.”
Unfortunately, this has become the new standard for journalism in America. Commitment to a particular worldview is now more important than commitment to the facts. This is why former New York Times reporter and editor for 28 years Tom Kuntz writes, “It is a sign of how much the Times, and mainstream journalism in general, have changed that it appears highly unlikely the ‘paper of record’ will correct the record” regarding both its Trump-Russia coverage and the 1619 Project.
What does it mean for our country when our national paper of record is repeatedly rewarded with our nation’s highest journalism prize for deliberately distorted, misleading, and false reporting? At the very least, it indicates that our nation has embraced a culture of lies. As such, we are ripe for judgment. Responding to Judah’s culture of lies, God declared in Jeremiah 9:9, “Shall I not punish them for these things? Declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
A culture of lies provokes God to national judgment. However, we are not yet without hope as a nation. In Isaiah 59:16, we discover that God only intervened after nobody was found to intercede on His behalf in support of the truth.
Today God is looking for individuals who are bold enough to resist our nation’s cultural trend toward deception. Today God is seeking intercessors who will defend truth and declare His Word to a wayward nation. Today God is probing each of our hearts to see whether we are content to embrace a culture of lies or whether we will serve Him by defending truth in our public squares. The question remains: Can God count on us, or must He personally intervene? If God intervenes, then it will be because His people compelled Him to judge America’s culture of lies by failing to rise to the occasion.
Be sure to read Timothy Zebell’s book Culture of Lies: Understanding Fake News and Its Spiritual Ramifications.
1. “2020 Pulitzer Prizes.” Pulitzer Prize, May 4, 2020. https://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year.
2. Silverstein, Jake. “Why We Published The 1619 Project.” Interactive. New York Times Magazine, December 20, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html.
3. Sandefur, Timothy. “The Anti-Slavery Constitution,” National Review, September 12, 2019, 10:15 a.m. https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2019/09/30/the-anti-slavery-constitution/.
4. Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought to Make Them True.” New York Times Magazine, August 14, 2019. Correction, August 15, 2019. Editor’s Note, March 11, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html.
5. Wood, Gordon. “Historian Gordon Wood Responds to the New York Times’ Defense of the 1619 Project.” World Socialist Web Site, December 24, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/12/24/nytr-d24.html.
6. Silverstein, Jake. “We Respond to the Historians Who Critiqued the 1619 Project.” Letter to the Editor. New York Times Magazine, December 20, 2019. Last updated January 4, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html.
7. Harris, Leslie. “I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.” Opinion. Politico, March 6, 2020, 5:10 a.m., EST. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248.
8. Murawski, John. “Disputed NY Times ‘1619 Project’ Already Shaping Schoolkids’ Minds on Race.” RealClear Investigations, January 31, 2020. https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2020/01/31/disputed_ny_times_1619_project_is_already_shaping_kids_minds_on_race_bias_122192.html.
10. Mackaman, Tom. “An Interview with Historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times’ 1619 Project.” World Socialist Web Site, November 28, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/11/28/wood-n28.html.
11. Berrien, Hank. “Pulitzer Prize Awarded to Creator of Widely-Derided 1619 Project from the New York Times.” Daily Wire, May 4, 2020. https://www.dailywire.com/news/pulitzer-prize-awarded-to-creator-of-widely-derided-1619-project-from-the-new-york-times.
12. Harris, “I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project. The Times Ignored Me.”
15. Silverstein, Jake. “An Update to the 1619 Project.” New York Times Magazine, March 11, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/magazine/an-update-to-the-1619-project.html.
16. Guelzo, Allen. “Pulitzer Overlooks Egregious Errors to Award Prize to New York Times’ Fatally Flawed ‘1619 Project.’” Daily Signal, May 5, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/05/05/pulitzer-overlooks-egregious-errors-in-awarding-prize-to-n-y-times-fatally-flawed-1619-project/.
18. Kuntz, Tom. “The NY Times Used to Correct Its Whoppers. But Not These Two Here’s Why.” RealClear Investigations, April 29, 2020. Last updated May 4, 2020. https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2020/04/29/the_ny_times_used_to_correct_its_whoppers_but_not_these_two_heres_why_123118.html.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.