It’s one thing to see intellectual dishonesty from radical activist groups like Black Lives Matter. Their primary purpose, both ostensibly and actually, is to campaign for their agenda, not to act as keepers of a public record. If they decide that their publicly declared agenda hampers that purpose, then discarding it may not be a terribly honest approach, but it’s not exactly surprising either.
When a media outlet that styles itself as America’s Paper of Record starts altering that record to cover its tracks, that’s an entirely different matter. After a year of hailing Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project” as a necessary step to understanding slavery as “our true founding,” both the New York Times and Hannah-Jones tried to send that claim down the memory hole — despite the fact that both promoted it as the basic message of their historical revisionism, and criticism of the “1619 Project” focused on that claim from the start. The entire point of Hannah-Jones’ essays were to recast the American Revolution as an attempt to cling to slavery rather than launch an experiment in self-governing democracy.
The term “memory hole” comes from George Orwell’s 1984, and it fits, writes Phillip Magness at Quillette:
The history of the American Revolution isn’t the only thing the New York Times is revising through its 1619 Project. The “paper of record” has also taken to quietly altering the published text of the project itself after one of its claims came under intense criticism.
When the 1619 Project went to print in August 2019 as a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, the newspaper put up an interactive version on its website. The original opening text stated:
The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It 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. [emphasis added] …
For several months after the 1619 Project first launched, its creator and organizer Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on the claim. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile”—a reference to the graphic of the date 1776 crossed out with a line. It’s a claim she repeated many times over.
Until now, anyway:
Rather than address this controversy directly, the Times—it now appears—decided to send it down the memory hole—the euphemized term for selectively editing inconvenient passages out of old newspaper reports in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Without announcement or correction, the newspaper quietly edited out the offending passage such that it now reads:
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
Discovery of this edit came about earlier this week when Nikole Hannah-Jones went on CNN to deny that she had ever sought to displace 1776 with a new founding date of 1619. She repeated the point in a now-deleted tweet: “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 was our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.” It was not the first time that Hannah-Jones had tried to alter her self-depiction of the project’s aims on account of the controversial line. She attempted a similar revision a few months ago during an online spat with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
Last night, Magness supported his argument with a lengthy Twitter thread (via Twitchy):
THREAD: The 1619 Project's creator is now claiming that the text they deleted from their website was not part of the "official" project, and was only "promotional material." Let's take a closer look… pic.twitter.com/2S1WhleDpL
— Phil Magness (@PhilWMagness) September 21, 2020
This passage had clear and explicit support from project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones. How do we know? Because she tweeted the same thing the week that the 1619 Project came out in August 2019. pic.twitter.com/e6gKlWoypR
— Phil Magness (@PhilWMagness) September 21, 2020
Magness reproduces said banner pic in his Quillette essay:
That’s game, set, and match to Magness, but he has more on this deception from Hannah-Jones. Be sure to read it all.
The issue here, though, isn’t Hannah-Jones. She’s hardly the first activist to give a slanted analysis of history in which good points get drowned in a sea of bias and hyperbole, and she won’t be the last. Hannah-Jones also isn’t the first to react dishonestly to that criticism and flat-out lie to avoid it, either, although we’d hope she’ll be the last. In the Internet age, there are just too many receipts created for that strategy to succeed — as Hannah-Jones is currently discovering.
The big issue here is the New York Times, which is supposed to be a gatekeeper against this kind of dishonesty. Instead, they apparently decided to become an active participant in it. Rather than being the Paper of Record, they altered the record and tried to pretend that nothing at all changed. The fundamental errors in the “1619 Project” got repeatedly pointed out by critics across the political spectrum, with the most substantial and withering coming from the World Socialist Web Site, of all places.
When confronted by refutations from actual historians, the New York Times refused to issue corrections, which was bad enough. Now we find out that the Paper of Record clandestinely edited the record to give its activist cover. That speaks volumes about the credibility of the “1619 Project” and the NYT’s ambitions to repackage it as academic curriculum, but also to the overall credibility of the entire NYT enterprise. The Oceania of Orwell’s imagination could hardly have had a more compliant newspaper than the Winston Smith-edited New York Times.