'Glaring historical fallacy': Academics call for Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind 1619 Project's award

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Professors, academics, and historians signed a letter to the Pulitzer Prize Board to revoke Nikole Hannah-Jones’s award for the 1619 Project .

“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,” reads the letter hosted on the National Association of Scholars website and signed by the president of the organization.

The 21 signatories, all of whom are academics, professors, or scholars, assert that the claim “protecting the institution of slavery was a primary motive for the American Revolution,” has no supporting evidence.

The letter was signed by Larry P. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, Victor Davis Hanson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Glenn Loury, a professor at Brown University, and Phillip W. Magness, a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, among others.

Hannah-Jones was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer for Commentary for her Aug. 14, 2019 essay, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

Historian Leslie M. Harris, who was hired by the New York Times to fact check the article, publicly revealed in March that she had warned the Times that Hannah-Jones’s claim “the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America” was false, among other corrections.

Harris said that “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.”

The essay was subsequently edited, with a correction stating the “original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists.” It was amended to state it was a primary motivation for some colonists to fight the war.

The letter’s signatories cited an additional, unacknowledged correction made by the newspaper “to the crucially important introductory materials whose claims — for example, the ‘reframing’ of American history with the year 1619 as the nation’s ‘true founding’ which form the underlying rationale of the entire Project.”

“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.” The letter read. “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.”

Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy defended Hannah-Jones’s award in May, saying she was “very proud of this selection,” adding its “ fresh political perspective, provocativeness of the argument, and engaging writing is what we are awarded.”

“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,” the letter concluded.

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