It’s Not About ‘Politics’—The Brouhaha over Nikole Hannah-Jones

Jenna Robinson:

Last week, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees came under fire for “viewpoint discrimination” over its decision not to offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will join UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism in July. An anonymous source reported that the decision was “a very political thing.”

But politics needn’t have come into it at all. For one thing, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has a long history of granting tenure to left-leaning faculty members—if the political make-up of the school is anything to go by. But more important is Hannah-Jones’ own record. Her history of shoddy journalism, unprofessional conduct, and lack of scholarship is more than enough to disqualify her from tenure at any university.

These shortcomings have been well-documented.

In December of 2019, five historians, led by Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz, wrote an open letter expressing their “strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project.” The signatories were a politically diverse group: Victoria Bynum at Texas State University, James M. McPherson at Princeton, James Oakes at City University of New York, and Gordon S. Wood at Brown University. They called attention to serious factual errors in the project, including its central thesis that the American Revolution was fought to protect the institution of slavery:

These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds—that they are the objections of only “white historians”—has affirmed that displacement.

Then in March 2020, a fact-checker who had been employed by The New York Times to vet the project came forward to say that Hannah-Jones and the Times knew about these errors before they went to print. Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University, is no conservative ideologue. Her criticism of Hannah-Jones essay is based on fact. “Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay,” she wrote in Politico.