CPRNC: The Latest on Hannah-Jones Saga

Nikole-Hannah Jones, (pictured) creator of the NY Times' 1619 Project speaks with Henry Louis Gates Jr. inside the Smith Campus Center. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

[Carolina Partnership for Reform] Just when we thought the furor over Nikole Hannah-Jones’ hiring at UNC-CH was over, another chapter unfolded last week after UNC released emails giving a bit of the inside story that went on at the Trustee level in the struggle over giving her tenure.

The News & Observer did an investigative piece on the revelations.  Emails revealed the efforts of major donor Walter Hussman – for which the journalism school is named – to keep Ms. Hannah-Jones from getting a tenured position.  He rightfully was concerned over historians’ criticism of the inaccuracies of her 1619 Project work and declared in an email that giving her tenure would be “controversial, contentious, and divisive.”

For those who have lost context and thought this was all about tenure, let’s remember what this story was all about.  Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize while a reporter for The New York Times for her controversial 1619 Project, which falsified crucial American history.

In spite of its fallacies, she has been fawned over ever since.

After toying cynically with her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – first accepting a cushy, $180,000-a-year, part-time position with the assurance of permanent tenure after five years on the job, then declaring that she wouldn’t take the position without immediate tenure, only to snub the university days after it caved in to her public blackmail – Ms. Hannah-Jones now is playing the beleaguered victim.

“I have never asked for special treatment,” Hannah-Jones said with a straight face, drawing little media skepticism. “I did not seek it here. All I asked was to be judged by my credentials and [to be] treated fairly and equally.”

And yet, for part-time work by a non-academic, Hannah-Jones would have been the second-highest paid person in the university’s journalism school, among the highest-paid in the university’s humanities and social sciences, and better paid than many of its full-time professors in medicine, business, and computer science.  Of course, with taxpayers’ money.


One thing interesting about the newly revealed emails from UNC is the concern over giving tenure to someone whose credentials have come into question like Ms. Hannah-Jones.  Liberals have tried to move the debate off of that and cast the blame on racism.

A recent indignant WRAL editorial opposing racism maintained that “the latest example comes in the treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose tenure request at the University of North Carolina devolved into matters about her race, and not her experience or credentials.”

Although this seems to have escaped WRAL’s notice, those who made Hannah-Jones’ appointment about her race and not her experience or credentials were not Hannah-Jones’ critics, but rather Hannah-Jones herself and her blinkered backers, including WRAL, The News & Observer, and UNC-CH.

“We will be frank: It was racist,” the journalism school’s woke faculty declared upon mere supposition, without citing a scintilla of evidence. “All because of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s honest accounting of America’s racial history.”

What About the Historians

Ah, but there’s the rub that far too many journalists ignore.  Hannah-Jones’ amateur accounting of America’s racial history was not honest, as numerous liberal historians have shown. Remember how a leading Black female historian the New York Times asked to help fact-check Hannah-Jones’ main 1619 Project essay warned the newspaper that its reporter had her revolutionary history wrong – asserting falsely that America’s war of independence was fought largely to preserve slavery.

“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,” Professor Leslie M. Harris wrote later in a Politico column. “Far from being fought to preserve slavery, the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American Colonies.”

The thing that surprised people – most importantly Walter Hussman – is in response, Hannah-Jones and the Times knowingly published their lies anyway.  Which begs the question – is that who deserves lifetime tenure at a public, taxpayer-funded university?

“If the goal of journalism, in contrast to marketing, is to accurately report facts, then Hannah-Jones does not merit the tenured professorship she received,” wrote political scientist Robert Maranto, the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

Most state and national media have implied that Hannah-Jones’ critics are all on the irredeemable right side of the political spectrum.  But in fact some of her fiercest critics are socialists, including contributors to the book “The New York Times 1619 Project and the racialist falsification of history.”

One Story Got It

Out of all the stories about this debacle – one single courageous N.C. news outlet got to the real point as it interviewed one of the professional historians most critical of the 1619 Project. “Both historians and journalists have a basic duty to be honest with their readers, to be factually correct with their readers,” Princeton University Professor Sean Wilentz reminded viewers of Triangle TV station CBS 17. “And that’s one of the problems with the 1619 Project. … There was just so much in there that was incorrect, wrong — basic facts about American history that don’t help the cause of enlightenment, only undermine it.

Boom!  Cutting through all the rhetoric, the “isms” and everything else is the core of this situation.  It’s about getting to the truth.  And the 1619 Project was flawed because it became apparent that was not its goal.  And its creator didn’t deserve tenure for that same reason.

UNC-CH’s embrace of Hannah-Jones and its blindness to her fake, harmful history have damaged its credibility and its national reputation. If the university’s focus all along had been on assessing the veracity of Hannah-Jones’ work – and done its due diligence in vetting her product – instead of obsessing in its liberal defense of her race, gender, or celebrity status, it might have avoided crippling itself.

These times demand courage, and those who have held the most power in this situation – university leaders and the news media – have exhibited the least of it.

Let’s be candid: UNC-CH never would have hired, much less offered tenure, to an academic who botched American history as abysmally as Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her hiring, like her mission, was overtly political from the start.  Her game appears to be the search for the limelight – calling herself in her Twitter bio the “Beyonce of journalism. She likes to do battle with her criticspraises Cuba, and applauds riots.  Hopefully we’ve heard the last of her in North Carolina.

Hopefully the top journalism school in the state will seek teachers in the future who will inspire journalists to seek truth, report accurately and approach with skepticism the important news of the day.  Freedom of the press is an essential to a free society and we need to hear the truth today more than ever.

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