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Political Editors / October 8, 2020

Rescind the 1619 Pulitzer

An open letter signed by 21 scholars and public writers demands action against fraud.

The National Association of Scholars posted a public letter, signed by 21 scholars and public writers, insisting that the Pulitzer Prize Board “rescind the prize” given to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her work on The New York Times’s historical farce 1619 Project.

Some excerpts from their letter:

We call on the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the 2020 Prize for Commentary awarded to 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. …

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.

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. …

Correcting factual errors in their published works, of course, is an important responsibility of both the journalistic and scholarly press. But such corrections are typically and rightly made openly and explicitly. The author and the publisher acknowledge an error and correct it. That is not what happened in this case. Rather, 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. …

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.

Clearly, it’s a stretch to imagine that the prize will be rescinded when, like the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s clear that it’s a prize by leftists for leftists. As Paul Mirengoff put it, “If anything, the Board likely regarded the distortions, inaccuracies, and half truths [of the 1619 Project] as a feature, not a bug.” Nevertheless, the more public rebuke the historical revisionists and charlatans receive, perhaps the less foothold their work will have in the minds of Americans.

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