A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway

June 3, 2023 • 11:00 am

You’ll know Bret Stephens as a conservative columnist for the New York Times. He also got his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago in 1995 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for political commentary. Because of his journalism and association with the University, he was invited to deliver yesterday’s University Class Day speech, an invitation extended by the University. (“Class Day” is the beginning of the Convocation Weekend, or graduation, with the formal cap-and-gown ceremony taking place today.)

The students didn’t like that much, especially because they didn’t have a say in who got to speak.  And the speaker is a conservative who doesn’t hate Israel, which means he’s doubly damned. A coalition of students from the groups below thus wrote a very long Google document (see below the fold) calling Stephens a bigot, a racist, a “bigoted ideologue”, and an “apologist for Israeli apartheid” (yes, the signers included the Students for Justice in Palestine). There’s also a “content warning”. Here are the signers:

CareNotCops [JAC: they want to abolish the police]
Environmental Justice Task Force
Students for Disability Justice
Students for Justice in Palestine
UChicago Against Displacement
UChicago Democratic Socialists of America

They criticize Stephens for many things, the one most relevant to this post being his supposed attempt to suppress the speech of other writers at the NYT. The evidence, however, is merely a Twitter thread by writer Wajahat Ali that is entirely hearsay, saying that Stephens has criticized other writers, written to editors (no evidence is adduced), and has also responded to being criticized with more criticism.  This is thin gruel. I don’t agree with everything Stephens says in the NYT, but one thing I haven’t seen him do is call for suppression of speech.  If he ever did, he’d be violating the principles of the college from which he graduated—the principles he lauded in his talk.

The Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper) reported on the coalition’s criticisms (again, see below the fold), and gave Stephen’s’s response:

In an email to The Maroon, Stephens responded to the statement.

“I read the coalition statement carefully. It is a caricature of my views. It is based on cherry-picked and misleading quotations and bad-faith readings of my work. It also borders on self-parody: To accuse me of being an “imperialist” sounds like 1960s agitprop. For the record, I am not an imperialist, a racist, or anything else the statement accuses me of being.”

In the email statement, Stephens countered that he had a more moderate ideology than what the statement suggested, pointing to some of his political views.

“The more mundane truth is that I’m a moderate conservative and card-carrying NeverTrumper who opposes the Dobbs decision, supports repealing the 2nd Amendment, and favors a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Last year, the Russian government banned me for life from visiting that country and Tucker Carlson calls me a ‘leftist.’ If this puts me beyond the pale of the ‘coalition,’ it says a lot more about them than it does about me.” (Editor’s note: Stephens included the hyperlinks himself in his emailed statement.)

Well, all the student criticism is fine, even encouraged by our University, for it’s free speech. And to be fair, none of the critics called for the cancelation of Stephens’s speech. As far as I know, it wasn’t disrupted, either.

But Stephens got his own back with his talk, which he reprinted in the NYT. It’s all about the importance of freedom of expression, and gives special encomiums to our recently deceased President and free-speech promoter Bob Zimmer. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

I’ve listened to a lot of anodyne graduation speeches in myu career (this one is really not the official graduation address, which is always delivered by a member of our faculty—today colleague and law professor Tom Ginsburg). It’s the “Class Day” address. Read it by clicking the headline below, and it’s also been archived here.  After reading it, I’m guessing that the University invited Stephens to talk on Class Day precisely so he could impart the lesson below to the departing students. If they wanted to cater to the students, they’d probably invite someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Stephens begins by addressing his critics directly, and then praising two major figures at the University (I don’t know if there was a walkout):

To those of you who are protesting or planning a walkout, I thank you for not seriously disrupting my speech. And though I’m sorry you won’t hear me out, I completely respect your right to protest any speaker you dislike, including me, so long as you honor the Chicago Principles. It is one of the core liberties that all of us have a responsibility to uphold, protect and honor.

To those of you who choose to stay, I thank you for honoring another Chicago principle, one that was dear to my dear friend, Bob Zimmer: Namely, that a serious education is impossible except in an environment of unfettered intellectual challenge — an environment that, in turn, isn’t possible without the opportunity to encounter people and entertain views with whom and with which you might profoundly disagree.To John Boyer, who welcomed me to Chicago in 1991 when I was a nervous 17-year-old freshman, I want to salute you for everything you’ve done to make the college so much better, while preserving what always made it great: the conviction that to think clearly, we must be able to speak freely; that to disagree intelligently, we must first understand the views of our opponents profoundly; that to change people’s minds, we must be open to the possibility that our minds might be changed. All of this asks us to listen charitably, argue candidly, consider deeply, examine and re-examine everything, above all our own deeply held convictions — and, unlike at so many other universities, to respond to ideas we reject with more and better speech, not heckling or censorship.

And the ending (but do read the whole thing):

. . . . You are about to go out into the real world, as real adults, with a real hand in shaping the conditions of our common life. Many of you will soon join and eventually lead great institutions, and a few of you will create significant businesses, NGOs, schools and other institutions of your own. I’m guessing not many of you are thinking: “I want to make them just like the University of Chicago,” at least as far as subzero temperatures, midterms that begin the third week and the food at Valois are concerned.  [JAC: Valois is a downscale cafeteria in Hyde Park, known for its homey and inexpensive food. Barack Obama would occasionally eat there, even as President.]

But I hope you can at least say this: that, at Chicago, you learned that institutions become and remain great not because of the weight of their traditions or the perception of their prestige, but because they are places where the sharpest thinking is given the freest rein, and where strong arguments may meet stronger ones, and where “error of opinion may be tolerated” because “reason is left free to combat it” and where joy and delight are generally found at the point of contact — mental or otherwise.

If you can say this, then Chicago will have served you well. And if you can bring this mind-set and this spirit to the places you will soon make your own, then you will have served Chicago even better.

Go forth, good luck, and thank you.


Stephens delivering the talk:

Click “read more” to see the “coalition statement on Bret Stephens’ Class Day Invitation“:

Continue reading “A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway”

Sunday: Hili dialogue

March 12, 2023 • 6:45 am

It’s Monday, March 12, 2023, Chicken Noodle Soup Day (much better with matzo balls). If you’re in America and haven’t moved your clock forward an hour, please do so now:


It’s also the Start of Daylight Savings Time, so be sure you set your clocks forward an hour. If you didn’t do it last night, do it NOW.

It’s also National Baked Scallops Day, Girl Scout Day, Check Your Batteries Day, National Working Moms Day, and National Elephant Day in Thailand.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the March 12 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*I feel a bit removed from news involving the U.S., but I do my best. Here’s a NYT op-ed, by the entire editorial board, that calls for the U.S. to avoid a confrontational strategy with China and get involved in economic rather than military competition. After mentioning Chinese provocations like military displays around Taiwan and the famous “spy balloon” (whatever happened to that?), it urges a more conciliatory posture:

Yet the relationship between the United States and China, for all its problems, continues to deliver substantial economic benefits to the residents of both countries and to the rest of the world. Moreover, because the two nations are tied together by millions of normal and peaceful interactions every day, there is a substantial incentive to maintain those ties and a basis for working together on shared problems like climate change.

Americans’ interests are best served by emphasizing competition with China while minimizing confrontation. Glib invocations of the Cold War are misguided. It doesn’t take more than a glance to appreciate that this relationship is very different. Rather than try to trip the competition, America should focus on figuring out how to run faster, for example through increased investments in education and basic scientific research.

Chinese actions and rhetoric also need to be kept in perspective. By the standards of superpowers, China remains a homebody. Its foreign engagements, especially outside its immediate surroundings, remain primarily economic. China has been playing a much more active role in international affairs in recent years — a new agreement facilitated by China to re-establish relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is the latest example — but China continues to show strikingly little interest in persuading other nations to adopt its social and political values.

There are also signs that China’s leaders are not united in supporting a more confrontational posture. It behooves the United States to reassure those who may be open to reassurance. America and China are struggling with many of the same challenges: how to ensure what President Xi Jinping has termed “common prosperity” in an age of income inequality; how to rein in the worst excesses of capitalism without losing its vital creative forces; how to care for an aging population and young people who want more out of life than work; how to slow the pace of climate change and to manage its disruptive impacts, including mass migration. . .

They’re right: Russia is surely far more worthy of disapprobation than China, though if China tries to take over Taiwan with its military, all bets are off.

*The Washington Post describes how a new technology, specifically a phone app that allows would-be immigrants at the southern U.S. border to make appointments with Customs and Border Protection, is glitching, squelching the hopes of those hoping to enter:

As the Biden administration struggles to bring order to the border, some of the most vulnerable migrants are finding themselves stuck in squalid camps in Mexico. A significant number are seeking asylum in the United States and were expecting the sanctuary of the nation’s immigration law, which allows migrants fleeing persecution to request protection no matter how they reach the country. Advocates estimate close to 7,000 people were spread out in encampments in Matamoros and Reynosa in January.

All are trying to use a new CBP app that is supposed to make entering the country more efficient. Each day, migrants awake before sunrise to search for a WiFi signal and try to get one of the 700 to 800 appointments available at eight entry points. Advocates estimate there are more than 100,000 people seeking entry. The appointments fill up within five minutes.

Previously, attorneys could intervene to make a case for asylum seekers to get emergency admission into the United States. Now those fleeing gang violence are fighting for appointments on their own, alongside those facing less dire conditions.

More than 9,900 individuals have used the app to enter the country by getting an exemption from the Title 42 pandemic-era public health restriction since it went live in January, CBP data shows. Over 10,000 more have used the app to obtain humanitarian parole under a new program for those from Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua — offering a lifeline for many who can avoid embarking on a treacherous journey.

Yet at migrant camps, shelters and safe houses along the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers who arrived before the app was launched or faced such imminent danger that they could not wait to get an appointment struggle to get a WiFi signal. Families scramble to register all their relatives only to find out all of the day’s appointments have been taken. Desperation mounts as they look toward a country within eyeshot but perpetually out of reach.

It’s ridiculous to make people in migrant camps fight to get a Wi-Fi signal within a five-minute window and then fight for others who have better access—all to get an appointment. Surely there’s a better solution. Even online forms put into a hopper, with someone selecting the appointed number randomly, is fairer than this.

*Speaking of asylum, many who have entered America seeking a new life have been disappointed with their prospects, or by long processing times for applications, and have crossed the border into Canada. NYC helps by giving immigrants bus tickets to a town near the Canadian border, where the immigrants then seek asylum in Canada. This has caused Canada to reassess its immigration policies:

A sharp increase in asylum seekers entering Canada through unofficial crossings — including many whose bus fares were paid by New York City and aid agencies — is intensifying the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reach an agreement with President Joe Biden to close off the entire land border to most asylum seekers.

Many of the arrivals abandoned plans to seek asylum in the United States, deterred by long processing times and restrictive definitions for asylum, according to aid officials and interviews with asylum seekers.

On a snowy day in late February, about three dozen asylum seekers, some wheeling suitcases, others carrying backpacks, trudged along a snow path from New York State to Quebec.

. . . Almost 40,000 asylum seekers entered Canada through irregular border crossings from the United States last year — nine times higher than in 2021, when pandemic restrictions were still in place, and more than double the nearly 17,000 who crossed in 2019. Almost 5,000 entered in January alone, according to the most recent figures from the Canadian government.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau will take up this issue when he meets with President Biden at the end of March.

*Want to limit your screen time—or that of your kids—on your phone? SCIENCE (and the WSJ) tells us that the best solution is to switch the display to black and white instead of the more stimulating colored screen.

In the first group, participants weren’t asked to do anything specific with the Screen Time app other than to monitor their phone usage. They also were instructed to put their smartphones in grayscale mode, a feature that changes the phone display to black and white from color. The researchers believed that a less-stimulating screen would make for a less-rewarding user experience.

Members of the second group were asked to set time limits for themselves by using both the “downtime” and “app limits” features of the Screen Time app. With “downtime,” users set aside time where only calls and certain apps can be used; “app limits” puts time limits on certain apps or categories, such as social media.

Lastly, those in the control group were asked only to monitor their phone usage.

All participants completed a subjective well-being survey measuring life satisfaction, stress, sleep and happiness before and after the experiment.

The activation of grayscale mode immediately reduced users’ screen time (by 50 minutes a day—the average screen time being 261.50 minutes per day) compared with the control. Those who were asked to set time limits showed a more gradual reduction in screen time, perhaps indicating participants became better over time at reaching their time limit. This group’s average reduction in screen time was not significantly lower than that of the control group.

So that’s about a 20% reduction in screen time, but I’m still appalled that people with iPhones who used the reduction tool still spent over four hours per day on their phone. No wonder that when you ride on public transportation, about 80% of your fellow passengers will be glued to their phones.  These devices have changed our lives permanently—many times for the better, but the mindless scrolling through Twitter can’t be seen as a good.

*The Academy Awards (America’s biggests Wokeathon) are tonight, and of course I won’t be watching. (There’s no t.v. set in our house, but I wouldn’t watch anyway.) The list of nominees is here, but I’ve seen only  of the nominated films (the ones below in bold). Nine nominations are too many!

“All Quiet on the Western Front”
“Avatar: The Way of Water”
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (stopped watching after half an hour)
“The Fabelmans”
“Top Gun: Maverick”
“Triangle of Sadness”

There are quite a few people (e.g., here or here) who think that Tom Cruise should win a Best Actor Oscar for “Top Gun: Maverick”, and even more (like the Guardian) who think that the movie, which Cruise produced, should win for Best Movie. Steven Spielberg lauded Cruise for “saving Hollywood’s ass“, but I never equated box-office draw with movie quality, and the latter is supposed to be the criterion for winning. In action movies, the main actor is The Action. Granted, Cruise is a creditable actor (he was better in “The Minority Report” and “Jerry Maguire”), but he ain’t no male Meryl Streep. I still go with “Tár” for both Best Picture and Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), though my cinemaphilic nephew doesn’t agree.

Any reader who predicts the winner in the five categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress will win a free book (one of mine) with a cat drawn in it. Put your predictions below.


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I’m in today’s Hili, in which her highness gives me napping lessons. In truth, though, no cat ever had insomnia. (The photo is mine, too!)

Hili: Jerry, look, this is how you sleep.
Jerry: I know, but sometimes it’s just a theory.
(Photo Credit: J.A.C.)

In Polish:

Hili: Jerry, popatrz, tak się śpi.
Jerry: Ja wiem, ale czasem to jest tylko teoria.
(Zdjęcie: J.A.C.)


A B. Kliban cartoon from Stash Krod:

From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington via Merilee. There’s a caption:

What would YOU do if you came home to find sooty paw prints all over your bathroom? Well, this Arlington resident did the right thing by calling Arlington County Animal Control for advice! Officer Knight was dispatched to the resident’s home after they reported an unidentified animal in the house. When she arrived on scene, she was able to identify the sooty footprints in the bathroom as raccoon prints. Officer Knight determined that the raccoon had climbed down the chimney, and being a very tidy animal, decided to take a bath in the toilet bowl, before climbing back up the chimney! Officer Knight closed the chimney flue and referred the resident to Humane Wildlife Services and Humane Wildlife Conflict Resolution to service and re-cap her chimney.

From Mark. This is what keeps me up at night!

Bonus video: Philomena on acting (h/t Merilee).  Diane Morgan found her niche in the role of Philomena Cunk, but was also good as Kath in Ricky Gervais’s series “After Life.” That, by the way, is an excellent series and you should watch it. Morgan hates stand-up comedy, which is how she started, and in truth wasn’t very good at it.

From Masih. You can’t get more defiant of the Iranian regime than burning your hijab (I remember American protestors burning their draft cards during the Vietnam war.) And you can’t get more oppressive and misogynistic than killing a woman who burns her hijab.

The rest of the tweet is

. . . and she was protesting the murder of #MahsaAmini. We the women of Iran do not deserve Islamic republic.

No, the Islamic Republic does not deserve the support of the women of Iran.

From Malcolm, which shows a d*g can accomplish what the owner can’t:

From Ricky Gervais. This is the very last scene of the last season of his show “After Life”, and is one of the most brilliant set pieces I’ve seen on t.v. The woman who appears is his late wife, who died of cancer: the starting point of the show. It’s all about the ephemerality of life:

From Luana. Don’t try to tell me that ChatGPT isn’t nudged by woke programmers! Read the answers:

From the Auschwitz Memorial. It’s no surprise that this gaunt old man of 75 lasted but three days in the camp:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is a brilliant demonstration that individuals will do whatever best helps them produce offspring. It’s dangerous to crawl to the water’s edge, where there are predators or the change of being landlocked, but you can squirt your larvae a lot farther in the air than in water. Presumably there’s an advantage to dispersal! (The original paper is here.)

Matthew doesn’t really understand baseball (just as I don’t understand cricket), but sent a pair of tweets about a college player called out on strikes. Here, on the second strike, the player has a mini-fit (it looked like a ball to me). The next pitch was clearly a ball but the ump, who must be blind, called a strike. The catcher jumps in to prevent mayhem. (That last called strike may be the ump’s “acting out tax.”

Jonathan Eisen, who does understand baseball, weighs in. The ump was suspended, and I agree about the last call

I am duck #6, drinking coffee (it’s 9 a.m. in Dobrzyn):

Guest post: A scholarly critique of the 1619 Project finds many omissions and distortions

January 3, 2022 • 9:30 am

A friend of mine who’s followed the New York Times‘s 1619 Project sent me a link to an article that you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. It’s in the Catalyst Journal, and my friend adds “don’t confuse it with Catalyst Magazine, which is pure woo!!” First, though, be aware that Catalyst seems to be largely socialist and anti-capitalist, but you shouldn’t dismiss anything they say simply because of that. Here’s its mission as stated on its website:

Discussion of capitalism is not off the table any longer. Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy launches with the aim of doing everything it can to promote and deepen this conversation. Our focus is, as our title suggests, to develop a theory and strategy with capitalism as its target — both in the North and in the Global South. It is an ambitious agenda, but this is a time for thinking big.

Catalyst is a peer-reviewed journal sustained by the support of over 7,500 individual subscribers and our institutional readers.

This explains the remarks on capitalism included at the end of this critique by historian James Oakes. (Note: it’s long: 47 pages as I’ve printed it out, but if you’re interested in the 1619 Project, its implications, its benefits, or its dangers, you should read it.). Click on the screenshot or go here; both afford free access.

And if you’re worried about Oakes’s credibility, below are his credentials from Bookreporter. You can also go to his Wikipedia bio, where you can see his impressive list of books relevant to the issues of slavery and race. One simply can’t dismiss his critique on the grounds of his credentials!

My friend’s take on Oakes’s piece was sufficiently eloquent and thoughtful that I asked him/her—not a pronoun but a disguise!—if I could use it to introduce the article, and he/she agreed. It’s between the two lines below. At the bottom I give a few quotes from Oakes’s piece:

The beating heart of wokeness is racial guilt––sincerely felt by remorseful white liberals, but amplified by BLM advocates seeking to convince the liberals that they and all of their ancestors have always been “supremacists” and nothing else. Although repentance and reparations are called for, the demand is made without an expectation that the original sin will thereby be purged. Whiteness itself is construed as an indelible sign of racism.

The New York Times is impressive and invaluable in many ways, but it has become desperately trendy in others. With its recent 1619 Project, the paper has lent its well-deserved prestige to the woke worldview. The Project amounts to a recasting of American history that turns racial domination into an all-explanatory factor––the only significant motive in “the white mind” from the seventeenth century until today. The result is a moralizing simplification of the key issues in our national development.

As the following essay by James Oakes––Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY––reveals, one of those distortions has to do with the work of historians themselves. According toThe 1619 Project, all preceding experts have whitewashed the record. They have minimized the importance of 1619, when the first British slave ship landed in the Colonies, while jingoistically celebrating 1776 instead. And they have misinterpreted the Revolution itself, Abolitionism, the Civil War, and the economic development of the country, which, it is said, was powered above all by slave labor.

As the author of such books as The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War, James Oakes is well situated to assess those claims. You will see that he shows them to be libels of nuanced studies by major American historians––liberals, one and all. And you’ll be left to wonder whether the New York Times, always so insistent on fidelity to facts, will now apologize to its readers and cease recommending its deeply flawed Project to schools and colleges across the country. (Don’t wait up for it.)

JAC: Here are a few quotes from Oakes’s piece:

If the 1619 Project was not actually introducing Americans to an aspect of their history they were never taught in school, why the controversy? If all the Times was doing was restating what we already knew, why the complaints? What was it about the way the Times presented that history that caused so much strife? There were the egregious factual errors, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s the ideological and political framework of the project that led its editors to those inaccuracies and distortions. The 1619 Project is, to begin with, written from a black nationalist perspective that systemically erases all evidence that white Americans were ever important allies of the black freedom struggle. Second, it is written with an eye toward justifying reparations, leading to the dubious proposition that all white people are and have always been the beneficiaries of slavery and racism. This second proposition is based in turn on a third, that slavery “fueled” America’s exceptional economic development.

. . . If nearly everything was caused by racism and slavery, it must follow, as night follows day, that the defense of slavery had to be one of the “primary” reasons for the American Revolution. This absurd, insupportable claim is derived from a syllogism rather than source material. The jury is not out on the question, because juries deliberate over evidence. When confronted by the absence of evidence, the Times changed to wording that read that protecting slavery was the primary reason “some” Americans rebelled. That may be true, but there’s more evidence that “some” Americans rebelled so they could begin to undermine slavery. Either way, the effect of that rewording is to destroy the intellectual architecture of the entire project, for if — whatever the individual motives of “some” people — the revolution itself was not driven primarily by the defense of slavery and racism, it follows that slavery and racism cannot explain one of the most important events — if not the most important event — in US history.

. . .The political goal animating the 1619 Project is reparations. “If you read the whole project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones has said, “I don’t think you can come away from it without understanding the project is an argument for reparations. You can’t read it and not understand that something is owed.”But if the case for reparations rests on distorted history, it can’t be a good case. On the subject of slavery, the distortions of the 1619 Project are numerous, and they are significant. It conflates the wealth of the slaveholders with the wealth of the United States. It asserts without evidence that slavery “fueled” the growth of the Northern economy. It betrays a stunning lack of familiarity with the basic facts of cotton cultivation. It stresses the expansion of the cotton economy but ignores the South’s relative decline in the national economy. Slavery consigned generations of Southerners, black and white, to poverty and economic backwardness. Its legacy is hardship and misery, not widespread wealth.

Most of what the 1619 Project has to say about Southern slavery is contained in an essay by sociologist Matthew Desmond that grossly distorts the history of the slave economy and is riddled with factual errors. . . .

Read the rest for yourself; it’s the most powerful takedown of the 1619 Project I’ve seen, and I thank my friend for calling it to my attention.

Competing and divergent reviews by The Washington Post and the NYT of the 1619 Project book

November 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

As you probably know, the 1619 Project has produced a book (below), which is an expansion and supplementation of the original essays in the New York Times magazine. It’s selling like hotcakes, too: #4 on Amazon.  Click on the image below to go to the Amazon site:

I haven’t read it yet, and am not sure that I will given the queue of books by my bed, but I did read two reviews of it. The first, in the Washington Post below, is quite critical. The reviewer is Carlos Lazada, identified as “the Post’s nonfiction book critic and the author of “What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.”

The second review appears in the NYT itself, and the paper has a long history of reviewing books by its own writers favorably. That review is at the second screenshot below (you can access the reviews by clicking on the screenshots), and the reviewer is Adam Hochschild, author, journalist, and historian, who wrote a book I read not long ago and liked very much: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial AfricaI would have bet a lot of money in advance that the NYT review would be highly positive, given their history of printing only positive reviews by their bigwig writers and the fact that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the main force behind the book, won a Pulitzer Prize for her first 1619 essay.

The contrasting titles of the reviews show their differential assessments. While both authors like parts of the book, Lazada is unwilling to excuse major claims in the book that are erroneous, misleading, or distorted, while Hochschild largely ignores or minimizes them. More important, Lazada emphasizes that the book pushes an ideological program, especially in a new essay contributed by Ibram X. Kendi.

I’ve always objected to the 1619 Project’s aim to inculcate schoolchildren with distorted and “progressive” Leftist views. It is propaganda and is not counteracted in schools by requiring other books giving other views. It’s the first time I know of that a newspaper has deliberately inserted itself into the school curriculum to push a set of ideological values and dubious “truth” statements.

Hochschild, on the other hand, gives a very laudatory review, picks out a few perfunctory problems, barely mentions Kendi’s essay, which he agrees with, and says it’s the book is a valuable and necessary corrective for racism. It might well be in bits, but if the assertions of Lazada be correct, there’s a considerable amount of distortion and cherrypicking going on. It’s amazing how the two reviews have such different takes on the same contentions of the 1619 Project.


First, Lazado’s review. I’ll concentrate on a few issues historians had with the book, and also on its propagandistic aims. Both reviewers’ words are indented:

Together these elements form a powerful and memorable work, one that launched a seismic national debate over the legacy of slavery and enduring racial injustice in American life. It is also a work with a variety of competing impulses, ones that can at times confuse and conflict. This is evident in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” a book that softens some of the edges of the prior magazine collection but also transcends its original mission as a historical corrective, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told.

This is Kendi’s view, but more later. I doubt readers will appreciate being deemed racist if they’re not doing something, which includes paying reparations to the black community. (I favor a form of reparations, but in terms of social benefits, better schools, and affirmative action, not direct payments to individuals who can prove some black heritage.)

One of the contentious assertions of the first 1619 Project was Hannah Nikole-Jones’s claim that 1619, the date that the first slaves arrived in the colonies, was the true founding date of America, for slavery conditioned, she said, every aspect of American life, even being a major cause of the American Revolution. The paper has walked that claim back a bit in the face of historians’ corrections, but the book still waffles on the issue.  From Lozada:

The elusiveness begins where the project begins — in 1619, with the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to reach the English American colonies, and that moment’s proper status in the history of the United States. In his note introducing the special issue, New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein first depicts the project as something of a thought experiment, counterfactual to the common notion of 1776 as the year of the nation’s birth. “What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?” Three sentences later, the question mark is gone, the tone more declarative. The barbaric system of slavery introduced that month is not just the United States’ “original sin,” Silverstein asserts; it is “the country’s very origin.” The project’s broadsheet supplement widens that perspective, declaring that “the goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history, making explicit that slavery is the foundation on which this country is built.” From what-if to no-matter-what, all on the same day.

This hardly settles matters. More than a year later, in an article titled “On Recent Criticism of The 1619 Project,” Silverstein indicated that the notion of 1619 as the country’s birth year should be regarded as a “metaphor” and not read literally. This is why, he explained, the Times had deleted a description of 1619 as our “true founding” that previously appeared in the project’s online presentation. But then, in an essay this month titled “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History,” Silverstein wrote that the date indeed “could be considered” the moment of the United States’ “inception.”

In the new book version, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Times journalist who conceived of the overall effort and wrote its lead magazine essay, offers a few interpretations. In the preface, she cautions that the project is “not the only origin story of this country — there must be many.” Then, in the opening chapter, Hannah-Jones repeats the text of her original magazine essay and refers to Black Americans as the country’s “true ‘founding fathers,’” as deserving of that designation “as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital.” Some 400-plus pages later, in a concluding chapter, she writes that the origin story in the 1619 Project is “truer” than the one we’ve known.

What might an assiduous reader conclude from all this? That 1619 is a thought experiment, or a metaphor, or the nation’s true origin, but definitely not its founding, yet possibly its inception, or just one origin story among many — but still the truer one? For all the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itself.

Lozada finds the 18 essays “both constructive and uneven”. An example of the latter is the chapter on “Capitalism”, which seems to distort matters (note that Hochschild’s review below accepts the chapter’s contentions whole hog):


Consider sociologist Matthew Desmond’s chapter, “Capitalism.” In his original magazine essay, Desmond argued that many labor-management and record-keeping practices of modern American capitalism originated on plantations, with lasting consequences for the nation’s growth and industry. He indicated, for instance, that the vast increases in the productivity of America’s cotton fields — an average enslaved field worker in 1862 picked 400 percent more cotton than one had in 1801, he noted — flowed from the meticulous efforts to manage every detail and moment of those workers’ lives. “Bodies and tasks were aligned with rigorous exactitude,” Desmond wrote in the essay, describing the “uncompromising pursuit of measurement and scientific accounting displayed in slave plantations.”

Critics of this essay pointed out that some financial and management practices Desmond mentions, such as double-entry bookkeeping, predated the slave-plantation era. More consequentially, they argued that Desmond’s discussion of cotton productivity bypassed the real explanation for the increase. In the new book, Desmond addresses this, but only to a point. Following a detailed discussion of the management of enslaved labor, he again cites the boost in productivity. Then he adds this caveat: “Historians and economists have attributed this surge in productivity to several factors — for example, Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode found that improved cotton varieties enabled hands to pick more cotton per day — but advanced techniques that improved upon ways to manage land and labor surely played their part as well.”

Note what is happening: A different explanation is introduced for an important point of fact, but the overall narrative remains — because “surely” it still holds. Readers should always be open to new historical interpretations, but when revising history, “surely” does not reassure. When facts complicate a story, they shouldn’t be tucked in an aside but taken up as part of that dynamic and contested process of discovery that Silverstein so praised.

Finally, Lozada criticizes the narrative of Hannah-Jones that the maintenance of slavery was a major cause of the American Revolution, which is based almost solely on an offer from the British in Virginia that any slave who joined them fighting the colonists would be freed:

In the opening chapter of the book, titled “Democracy,” Hannah-Jones adds two explanations supporting her interpretation of colonial motives. One involves the Dunmore Proclamation of November 1775, in which the royal governor of Virginia offered freedom to enslaved people if they joined the British side of the fight. (The declaration went unmentioned in Hannah-Jones’s original essay and did not appear in the magazine’s timeline of important events in African American life; now, it is featured in the book’s expanded timeline.) She writes that the proclamation “would alter the course of the Revolution,” appropriate phrasing given that the revolution was well underway by the time of the proclamation.

How influential was this episode in the fight for independence? Here Hannah-Jones narrows the story. She stresses that the proclamation “infuriated white Virginians” and that when you think about it, the revolution was mainly a Virginia thing, anyway. “Schoolchildren learn that the Boston Tea Party sparked the Revolution and that Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress, the place where intrepid men penned the Declaration and Constitution,” she writes. “But while our nation’s founding documents were written in Philadelphia, they were mainly written by Virginians. . . . No place shaped the Revolution and the country it birthed more than Virginia.” It is a subtle but effective shift: Rather than expand history to encompass the range of the colonists’ rationales, Hannah-Jones limits the universe of colonists who matter. Now, Virginia is real colonial America.

This sounds a bit sleazy to me, but none of this is mentioned in the NYT’s own review. Lozada also criticizes the claim that the civil rights movement was fought almost completely without white allies, but I don’t have time to address that.

Finally—and I know I’m quoting too much, but readers may not have access to the story—Ibram Kendi writes the penultimate chapter with with his denial that American is making progress in racial relations (a claim I’ve always found totally ludicrous), so that the readers need to take antiracist action. Note the one fact Kendi adduces to deny the arc of progress (I’ve put it in bold):

In a chapter titled “Progress,” historian Ibram X. Kendi writes that the popular notion of America making steady, if slow, headway toward greater racial justice is “ahistorical, mythical, and incomplete.” The “mantra” of incremental improvement can undermine efforts to promote real equality. Kendi cites Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which held that the country’s progress against discrimination meant that certain states and counties no longer needed federal approval before amending their voting laws, as the Voting Rights Act required. (The decision unleashed a series of state-level initiatives creating obstacles to voting.) “Saying that the nation has progressed racially is usually a statement of ideology,” Kendi writes, “one that has been used all too often to obscure the opposite reality of racist progress.” The failures of the Reconstruction era led to the “Second Reconstruction” of the 20th-century civil rights movement, a cause and effect that Kendi says is too often “left out of the story.”

That is one action (there are some others, of course), but what we no longer have is blatant segregation (dual water fountains and restrooms, back-of-the-bus policies, segregated hotels), lynchinga, and mistreatment of and bigotry against blacks in every situation. What we do have are the Civil Right Act, the Voting Act, and a strident effort to hire blacks and provide affirmative action in college admissions and hiring. It appears, though, that the aim of both Kendi and Hannah-Jones is to deem all Americans as racists if they’re not antiracist by paying reparations. I favor reparations, but as a moral issue and not a duty (my ancestors, after all, came from eastern Europe around 1890), and not by dispensation of cash to individuals.


Kendi then introduces something else he says is left out of the story — that America requires a “Third Reconstruction” to address the unfulfilled promise of the second. Here the 1619 Project’s project becomes explicitly political. Hannah-Jones fills in the details in the book’s final chapter, “Justice,” where she identifies the racial wealth gap as the most serious challenge for Black Americans. “White Americans’ centuries-long economic head start,” she writes, is what “most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To narrow that gap, the country must embark on “a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

Among these are a slate of priorities such as “a livable wage; universal healthcare, childcare, and college; and student loan debt relief,” Hannah-Jones indicates. They also include cash reparations for Black Americans — specifically, for those who can document having identified as Black for at least 10 years prior to any reparations process and who can “trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery.” Also suggested is a commitment to enforce civil rights laws regarding housing, education and employment, as well as “targeted investments” in Black communities across the country.

And so the New York Times’s 1619 Project is now enlisted in the service of a policy agenda and political worldview. The book’s concluding chapter underscores that link. “It is one thing to say you do not support reparations because you did not know the history, that you did not understand how things done long ago helped create the conditions in which millions of Black Americans live today,” Hannah-Jones writes. “But you now have reached the end of this book, and nationalized amnesia can no longer provide the excuse. None of us can be held responsible for the wrongs of our ancestors. But if today we choose not to do the right and necessary thing, that burden we own.”

Is this the message that we want to convey to children—that if they aren’t antiracist, they are racist? That is Kendi-an to the bone.   I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s proper.

The NYT’s review:

Hochschild takes a diametrically opposed view, saying that his worries about historians’ concerns “largely melted away” when he read the book. He then lauds the book for showing connections between past racism and present-day acts.  Here’s one example:

Part of the book’s depth lies in the way it offers unexpected links between past and present. New Yorkers, for instance, have long protested that the city Police Department’s “stop and frisk” searches for contraband or guns disproportionally snag people of color. But how many had connected it, as Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander do here, to the slave patrols of the old South, in which groups of armed white men routinely barged into the cabins of enslaved men and women to hunt for stolen goods or “anything they judged could be used as a weapon”?

Is there a direct connection here, or merely an analogy? Connecting two things because they’re similar doesn’t show an ancestor-descendant relationship. And Hochschild accepts Desmond’s chapter without quibbles:

Another contributor, Matthew Desmond, points out that the cotton plantation “was America’s first big business.” On the eve of the Civil War the monetary value “of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation.” That fact alone should silence anyone who claims that slavery is not central to American history.

No, that’s best shown in other ways, not by comparative value.

Hochschild continues:

Moreover, controlling those workers “helped mold modern management techniques.” The plantations’ size allowed for economies of scale. And “like today’s titans of industry, planters understood that their profits climbed when they extracted maximum effort out of each worker. So they paid close attention to inputs and outputs” — easy to do when you compared harvesters according to how far each had progressed down parallel rows of cotton plants. Every fieldworker’s yield was carefully recorded, and rewards or whippings administered accordingly. Spreadsheets tabulated the depreciating value of human property over time. Trade magazines for planters carried management tips on getting the most out of enslaved workers: the best diet, clothing and even the proper tone of voice to use when giving orders.

Does Hochschild, a historian, not realize that many modern management techniques were afoot independently in the North, not copied from slaveholders? And, of course, modern managers don’t dictate the diets of their employees nor whip them. He also buys Kendi’s assertion that Justice Roberts’s comment shows that racism has not waned a bit since the antebellum era.

To be fair, Hochschild does have some beefs about the book. He calls the claim that the Founding Fathers created the American system, and fomented revolution, all to preserve the institution of slavery “going out on a shaky limb.” He bemoans the lack of discussion of slavery in countries outside the U.S., and wishes that there were more about white allies of slavery. (Here he’s really admitting that the main criticisms of historians are correct.) But in the end, he sees the book as a necessary corrective—part of “The Reckoning.”

Despite what demagogues claim, honoring the story told in “The 1619 Project” and rectifying the great wrongs in it need not threaten or diminish anyone else’s experience, for they are all strands of a larger American story. Whether that fragile cloth holds together today, in the face of blatant defiance of election results and the rule of law, depends on our respect for every strand in the weave.

Yes, we do need a corrective to counteract the glossing-over of slavery and racism taught in many American history courses. But I’m not down with distortions of that history, and I’m opposed to calls for action and reparations in a book that will be used widely in schools.  They should have left Kendi out, and also had the book reviewed not by self-picked reviewers but, like science papers, by anonymous but qualified reviewers picked by someone other than the authors.

h/t: Paul

Glenn Loury and John McWhorter on Nikole Hannah-Jones

December 11, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Brown University professor Glenn Loury is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more.  What’s he mad about? The protestors and their running dogs who are calling for defunding the police. And that, he argues—probably correctly—has reduced the amount of policing, which is “costing black lives.” Further, he’s angry at Nikole Hannah-Jones for being proud that someone called the riots after the George Floyd killing “the 1619 riots.”

Here’s part of his recent Patreon discussion with John McWhorter (the whole discussion is behind a paywall but will soon be up for free) about the 1619 Project and its leader, the often-unhinged Nikole Hannah-Jones. McWhorter isn’t a fan of Hannah-Jones, either, but shows a little more empathy for her because he thinks that she really believes she’s changing America for the better and isn’t just engaged in moral preening. McWhorter recalls an incident from his youth, when he knocked down a ten-year-old girl and “broke her,” as leading to his reluctance to “break” Hannah-Jones.

My own view is that you don’t need to “break” any of your opponents (after all, that’s what Woke people do): just break their arguments.  On another note, I can’t wait for McWhorter’s upcoming book on social-justice activism and DiAngelo-style anti-racism as forms of religion.

Here’s Loury, in another clip from the same show, really heated up about the death of black children in drive-by shootings, and how, he thinks, the media ignores that compared to the death of people like George Floyd.

The annals of the 1619 debacle at the New York Times

October 27, 2020 • 9:00 am

JAC: Greg has another installment in his continuing series on the New York Times’s 1619 project. Readers please note that this is Greg’s piece, not mine.


by Greg Mayer

As they have since it was published last year, the folks at the World Socialist Website (WSWS) continue to lead in the critique of the New York Times‘ 1619 Project. In doing so, they have highlighted not just the defects of the project as history, but the dissimulation and mendacity of the Times‘ editors and writers in their attempts to defend it. In doing so, they have performed a public service, and have put the lie to claims that criticism of “1619” is a right-wing project.

A few days ago the WSWS posted a damning summary of the Times‘ falsification of the history and intentions of “1619”: “It is all just a metaphor: The New York Times attempts yet another desperate defense of its discredited 1619 Project.” It’s a must-read. Some excerpts:

On October 16, New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein issued a new defense of the 1619 Project in which he now argues that its best-known claim—that the year 1619 and not 1776 represents the “true founding” of the United States—was a metaphorical turn of phrase not intended to be read literally. . . . according to [lead writer Nicole] Hannah-Jones and the Times, “true” history had been suppressed by dishonest “white historians” hellbent on maintaining their racist “founding myth” of 1776. After two centuries of a historical narrative centered on the false elevation of 1776, the 1619 Project declared that “it was finally time to tell our story truthfully.”

In spite of Silverstein’s deletion of the “true founding” claim and his other word changes, the Times’ essential position remains the same: The American Revolution was a retrograde event, in which the defense of slavery was the critical motivation. . . .

As for the Project’s quietly-deleted “true founding” thesis—which was emblazoned on the Times website and repeated again and again by Hannah-Jones on social media, in interviews, and her national lecture tour—Silverstein now claims that this was the product of nothing more than a minor technical error, the sort of snafu that is an inevitable outcome of difficulties for modern-day editors, such as himself, in managing a “multiplatform” publication and “figuring out how to present the same journalism in all those different media.” With all of these formats to tend to, the beleaguered editors of the Times just couldn’t get the story straight! Silverstein does not seem to grasp that the criteria of objective truth do not change as one moves from printed newspaper to website, or from Facebook to Twitter. What is a lie in one format remains a lie in another. . . .

This is the version that was sent out to school children. It read, with emphasis added:

1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that our defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?

He [Silverstein] then quotes the revised passage, that has been made to the online publication only:

1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619?

Perhaps Silverstein hopes his readers will carelessly jump over this scissors-and-glue work. He writes that the difference in the two passages is “to the wording and the length, not the facts.” But actually, there to be read literally in black and white, the first passage refers specifically to an allegedly false “fact.” If a metaphor is being employed in the original version, it is very well concealed.

In an earlier piece, “Factional warfare erupts in New York Times over the 1619 Project“, the WSWS recounts the brouhaha at the Times over Bret Stephens’ criticism of 1619. Noting Stephens’ use of scholarly criticisms marshaled by the WSWS and others, the piece relates the “bitter conflict” at the Times. One detail I did not know was that the Times Guild has thoroughly disavowed the attack on Stephens from its Twitter account, not merely deleted it:

The Guild later deleted the tweet after a “furor” erupted among Times staff against this transparent demand for managerial censorship of a fellow journalist—to say nothing of its mangling of the English language. The Guild declared that whoever issued the attack on Stephens had done so without permission.

The 1619 affair has clearly revealed that wokeism is not a position on the left end of the American political axis. Rather, it forms an orthogonal axis, and racialists of all persuasions can espouse “identity” über alles; and opponents of wokeism can come from all along the traditional political spectrum. That is why we need to have terms such as the “liberal left” vs. the “illiberal left”. (The WSWS would be to the left of “liberals” on the traditional political axis, but I would identify them as “liberal left”, since “liberal” in this context refers to defense of civil rights and anti-racialism as the opposition to wokeism and racialism.)

In ignoring its own fact checker, dismissing cogent criticism from respected scholars, and dissimulating about its actions, the Times has discredited itself. As the WSWS put it,

The 1619 Project is a travesty of both history and journalism that has humiliated the Times and undermined its self-proclaimed status as “the newspaper of record.”

I still read the Times, but I can no longer defend it.

h/t Brian Leiter

Bret Stephens is wrong about most things, but he is very brave

October 10, 2020 • 11:15 am

The title of this piece came from Greg Mayer, who was about to write a post on this same subject when he saw my draft. So, with permission, I’ve stolen his title, which was better than mine. And I agree with it.

Bret Stephens knew what he was doing when he called out the 1619 Project in his latest column (click on screenshot below). For he not only criticized the project, but the paper’s—his paper’s—journalistic integrity, verging at times on mendacity.  In fact, it’s a good piece, even if you don’t like Stephens’s conservatism, for what I know about his indictment is true. But how much of a career will he have at the NYT now? For what he did was far more serious than the “crimes” that made Bari Weiss’s life at the paper so untenable that she left. She was just anti-woke, which went against the paper’s editorial grain.

When Greg saw this draft (he’s followed the Project since its inception, he added this:

You mention Bari Weiss, but don’t forget the opinion page editor, James Bennet, who was defenestrated from the Times for insufficient wokeness. One thing about Stephens that might protect him is the fact that he is very visible, as the Times‘s premier conservative columnist. Both Weiss (who only occasionally was published by the Times) and Bennet were mostly behind the scenes players; Stephens is out in front, published twice weekly (including his duets with Gail Collins), and a “Columnist”, not a mere contributor.

In his column, Stephens says the 1619 Project, however good its motivations, was handled so duplicitously that it gave the paper’s critics “a gift.”

Let me say first that since the 1619 Project was not just journalism, but also an attempt to infiltrate American secondary education with its ideology from Critical Race Theory, it represents a victory for the Woke. Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the Woke haven’t won, I disagree. They control not only the two most respected liberal papers in America, and most higher education, but are now putting their tentacles into secondary-school education. Even the Chicago school system has adopted the 1619 Project as part of its curriculum.

But I digress. I described some of the paper’s questionable practices in earlier posts, and Stephens reprises how Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project’s director, simply lied about the project’s overriding aims, saying that she never tried to change the foundation date of America from 1776 to 1619. But she did make that claim several times, and it quietly disappeared from the paper’s website without an explicit correction. And despite trenchant criticism by historians about many of the project’s empirical claims, the paper and editor refused to accept, or even consider, the criticisms.  The Woke don’t do stuff like that.

Stephens finds other problems, like the new claim that 1776 represented the year of “defining contradiction” of America, that the founding principles were “false,” and that Jake Silverstein, the NYT Magazine editor, grossly exaggerated when he said this:

“Out of slavery—and the anti-Black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”

Well, you can argue about the meaning of words like “contradiction,” “falsity”, and “nearly everything,” but the fact remains that noted historians on all sides of the political spectrum have argued that the Times‘s journalism simply distorted history. Stephens gives several examples of pushback by historians (e.g., here, here and here) and concludes, correctly, I think, that the 1619 Project is “a thesis in search of evidence, not the other way around.”

The historical distortions and track-covering by the Times are not in doubt, at least not among those who’ve followed the controversy, but of course all criticism of the 1619 Project by liberals comes with the obligatory praise for its anti-racist intent.  And indeed, the intent was admirable. Who of good will can oppose anti-racism? But the execution has been deeply flawed, and will the paper really reduce racism by inculcating a generation of American children with Critical Race Theory? Further, Trump has already suggested that he’ll cut off government funding to any schools who adopt the 1619 Project in their curriculum. I oppose that autocratic decision as well, as the President should not be dictating what’s taught to children. School boards set curricula.

In the end, Stephens knows he’s even more of an apostate with his NYT colleagues now, but you have to admire him for the courage of his convictions. He didn’t have to write this column, which includes criticisms of the paper’s journalistic practices like this:

Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it. 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.

Nor did he have to end his piece this way, but I’m glad he did:

For obvious reasons, I’ve thought long and hard about the ethics of writing this essay. On the one hand, outside of exceptional circumstances, 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.

On the other, 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, and that is being widely written about outside The Times. To avoid writing about it on account of the first scruple is to be derelict in our responsibility toward the second.

All the more so as journalists, in the United States and abroad, come under relentless political assault from critics who accuse us of being fake, biased, partisan and an arm of the radical left. Many of these attacks are baseless. Some of them are not. Through its overreach, the 1619 Project has given critics of The Times a gift.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal has reported on a futile effort: a letter to the Pulitzer Committee signed by historians (including Glenn Loury), asking them to take back the 1619 Project’s Pulitzer Prize (that Prize was ridiculous from the get-go, awarded not for quality but wokeness). You won’t be able to read the WSJ article, which is paywalled, but you can see the beginning by clicking on the screenshot below. (Judicious inquiry may yield you a copy of the piece.)

The WSJ repeats some of the earlier criticism, but also links to the Pulitzer letter, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below:

Of course the Pulitzer folks won’t retract the prize; I don’t know if it’s ever done that, but it surely wouldn’t retract an award for an antiracist piece in these times.  Here’s a short extract from the longish letter which includes lots of material we’re familiar with by now:

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. A “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,” as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish “deeply reported” falsehoods.

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. To err is human. But 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. 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 is signed by 21 original signatories and 7 additional ones from “the Independent Institute.” I can’t be arsed to look most of the scholars up and, as most Woke people do, try to discredit them. I’d never heard of any of them save Glenn Loury, who, as I recall, identifies as a liberal. It doesn’t matter, though, as Pulitzer won’t revoke the Prize. But the original award to the 1619 Project is, I think, a travesty, motivated much more by ideology than by quality.

h/t: Cate, Enrico

Chicago public schools adopt the 1619 Project

September 9, 2020 • 12:30 pm

I’m not a big fan of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, though I think its aims—letting people know that the aftereffects of slavery still weigh down America—are admirable. But I’m wary of its historical inaccuracies, called out by several prominent historians, of its main message that America is affected in nearly every aspect by “systemic racism”, and, above all, by the efforts of the paper to propagandize American schoolchildren with its own unvetted view of history. (What other bit of NYT journalism has been explicitly designed to be part of a school curriculum?).  In view of this, I thought it was a travesty that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Project’s creator, got the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her essay on the Project. It seemed to me that the Prize was given not for quality but for wokeness.

On the other hand, it’s out of line for Trump to de-fund school districts who adopt the project into its curriculum, as school curricula are the ambit of local school districts, cities, and states—not the President. Here’s his Big Threat.

But I was surprised to hear that in fact the Chicago Public Schools, as reported in this Tribune article (click on screenshot) have quietly adopted that curriculum, for I’d heard no intimations of it previously. And I don’t know how it got adopted.

The report of Chicago’s ideological curriculum came in one short sentence (my bolding):

Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired back at President Donald Trump’s weekend threat to cut federal funding for public schools that teach the “1619 Project,” calling it “more hot air.”

. . .The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” looked at slavery and how it shaped America. Although widely celebrated, the Pulitzer Prize-winning project has drawn criticism from some conservative politicians and scholars. [JAC: It’s not just conservatives who have criticized the project, so this sentence is editorializing.]

But Chicago Public Schools has adopted it as part of its curriculum, which Lightfoot defended on Tuesday by saying it’s important for students of all backgrounds to understand slavery. Lightfoot also said Trump has “no power to try to take funding from any school district.”

“If he does, obviously, we will see him in court,” she said.

Now I like Mayor Lightfoot: she’s tough and a straight shooter, and she even called out violence and looting when they occurred as part of the demonstrations in Chicago. But I wonder if she was able to get that curriculum adopted on her own. For it’s not just an understanding of slavery that the project teaches, but also some aspects of Critical Race Theory, including the prevalence—indeed, ubiquity—of racism in every aspect of American life. It’s also historically inaccurate, but neither Hannah-Jones nor Lightfoot seem to care too much about that.


h/t: Cate