The New York Times should explain its stealth edits to the 1619 Project

Jonah Goldberg:

More disturbing is the fact that the Times, with no explanation or clarification, has retroactively edited its own Pulitzer-winning work. The “true founding” language is now gone.

In journalism, going back and substantially “fixing” your copy without alerting readers to what you’ve changed and why is a huge no-no.

But this is much, much worse.

The primary reason the 1619 Project sparked so much controversy was this central thesis—that America “began” with slavery (as the Times put it in splashy TV ads). Sure, there were other reasons to debate the project. It got major historical facts and interpretations grossly wrong, as many progressive historians noted. The Revolutionary War wasn’t fought to defend slavery, 1619 wasn’t the first year African slaves came to the U.S., and 1619 wasn’t particularly significant beyond being a tidy 400 years prior to the publication date. Cotton farming wasn’t nearly as central to American industrialization as Marxists and other historians (including Marx himself) have long tried to argue in the so-called “King Cotton” thesis.

But it was the assertion that America was so defined by slavery that 1619 eclipsed 1776 that grabbed everyone’s attention. After all, if the thesis was that slavery was not only really bad, it was more significant than some claim, who would argue with that? Indeed, that’s been the conventional take for decades now. 

The really controversial take would be to argue that slavery, while evil and unjustifiable, doesn’t play the central role in American life or American history that some people claim. But the Times would never publish such a thing, and the Pulitzer Committee would never honor that. 

The Times owes the country a serious explanation for why it is bowdlerizing its own work. If it isn’t doing so out of a partisan desire to deny Donald Trump and his fans a talking point, it should make that clear. Because the silence doesn’t leave room for any other interpretation.