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Arnold Ahlert / Oct. 15, 2020

The New York Times Goes Full Orwell

After publishing an op-ed critical of the 1619 Project, "journalists" revolt.

The New York Times, a former newspaper turned bastion of “woke” propagandizing and political rhetoric, has given itself yet another black eye.

Last week, Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote an op-ed challenging the paper’s cherished 1619 Project, an ambitious effort to rewrite history so it aligns with progressive assertions that America is a systemically racist nation. “Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it,” Stephens asserted. “We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. And we’re supposed to report and comment on the political and cultural issues of the day, not become the issue itself. As fresh concerns make clear, on these points — and for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.”

Those concerns? The Times quietly “edited” (read: removed) a critical assertion made in its original publication of the piece. The first version stated that the 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

In the second version, “our true founding” was removed. This critical alteration was pointed out by American Institute for Economic Research senior research fellow Phillip W. Magness, who revealed the motivations behind that decision, noting that five historians took issue with author Nikole Hannah-Jones’s assertion that protecting slavery was a primary motive of the American Revolution. Moreover, he noted that the Times’s own fact-checker had warned that the evidence for such an assertion was weak.

That wasn’t the only edit. “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia,” stated the print edition of the 1619 Project from August 2019. “It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.”

The website version? The phrase “America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began,” was also removed.

Hannah-Jones herself also tried to alter reality, going from tweeting “I argue that 1619 is our true founding” the week after the project launched, to a since-deleted tweet where she stated, “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 was our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.”

Stephens points out several other inconsistencies and outright errors in the project, which he attributes to every writer on the project singing “from the same song sheet.” He also notes that the “Times’s editors, however much background reading they might have done, are not in a position to adjudicate historical disputes.” He also revealed that despite these errors, New York Times Magazine’s editor, Jake Silverstein, who did a little “editing” of his own in the project’s introduction, was the person who proposed making this part of pubic school curriculums.

Stephens acknowledged the risk of criticizing Hannah-Jones: “It’s bad practice to openly criticize the work of one’s colleagues. We bat for the same team and owe one another collegial respect.” Yet he insisted, “The 1619 Project has become, partly by its design and partly because of avoidable mistakes, a focal point of the kind of intense national debate that columnists are supposed to cover.”

As Stephens is currently discovering, collegial respect does not extend to those who challenge the progressive narrative. The New York Times Guild, the union representing the paper’s media employees, attacked Stephens. “It says a lot about an organization when it breaks it’s [sic] own rules and goes after one of its’s [sic] own,” it tweeted. “The act, like the article, reeks.”

Perhaps what reeks even more is a union representing media employees making a basic grammatical mistake — twice — by using “it’s” instead of “its.” Perhaps someone noticed, as the Guild deleted it and offered a subsequent tweet insisting, “We deleted our previous tweet. It was tweeted in error. We apologize for the mistake.”

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger defended the 1619 Project as a “journalistic triumph” and defended Stephens’s right “to produce a piece, even when — maybe even especially when — we don’t agree with it as an institution.” Executive Editor Dean Baquet called the 1619 Project “one of the most important pieces of journalism The Times has produced under my tenure,” while firmly rejecting Stephens’s raising questions about the “journalistic ethics and standards” of the project and its author.

Those are quite revealing sentiments. First, note that Sulzberger and Baquet called the 1619 Project a journalistic triumph, not a historical one. Moreover, the clearest sign of the paper’s commitment to “journalistic ethics and standards” is the stealth editing that was done, absent the usual public notification.

Left-wing columnist Glenn Greenwald points out the utter absurdity of a journalist union demanding that their colleagues “be silenced and censored.” He asks, “What kind of journalists plead with management for greater restrictions on journalistic expression rather than fewer?”

The kind that run the New York Times. The kind who prompted the resignation of editorial page editor James Bennet following the uproar over the paper’s publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton advocating the use of force against rioters — a position supported by 58% of Americans. An uproar that stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence surrounding a Times editorial carrying water for Communist China, in which Hong Kong Executive Council member and legislator Regina Ip asserted the city’s “progressive integration with China is unavoidable.” The same kind of people who prompted the resignation of opinion columnist and editor Bari Weiss, who says she fled the “constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.”

How compromised is the Guild? In July, it demanded that “sensitivity reads should happen at the beginning of the publication process, with compensation for those who do them.” As Greenwald explains, sensitivity reads are about removing harmful stereotypes, implicit bias or potentially objectionable material from storylines — and characters — in books. “As creepy as ‘sensitivity readers’ are for fiction writing and other publishing fields,” he writes, “it is indescribably toxic for journalism, which necessarily questions or pokes at rather than bows to the most cherished, sacred pieties.”

No longer. From columnist Jim Rutenberg’s 2016 assertion that even-handed coverage of “an abnormal and potentially dangerous” presidential candidate Donald Trump was virtually impossible — a position heartily endorsed by Baquet — to a present where anti-Trump narrative after anti-Trump narrative transcends reality itself, it’s clear that objectivity and journalistic integrity no longer exist at the so-called “paper of record.”

“All the news that’s fit to print” is the Times’s slogan. “Propagandists R Us” is far more apropos.

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