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The Pulitzer Has Become a Joke

The 1619 Project might very well deserve a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But before that is awarded, perhaps the Pulitzer Center should give itself its own prize, in the category of comedy. They have made the prize itself a very sad joke.

The Pulitzer Prize used to have gravitas: defined as dignity, seriousness, and solemnity of manner. With its award of the prize to the New York Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones for The 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Center has shed all respect, and become just another preening tower of virtue signaling and self-promotion.

Granted, the prize was awarded in the category of “commentary,” so the celebrated work doesn’t strictly have to be hard reporting, or necessarily one hundred percent fact-checked. But 1619 is so far from truth, its premises so rooted in a false rewriting of history, so ignoring and dismissing of fact, that the Pulitzer Center has made a full category error in awarding Hannah-Jones anything except an honorable mention for ham-fisted fiction.

But the project’s preamble claims truth. And that’s a problem, since it’s not true.

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near oint omfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully. 

Serious historians bristled, cringed, and wrung their hands over this project, that the Pulitzer Center promoted as the project’s official education partner. Pulitzer participated in foisting a work of fiction, smuggled into the academic landscape, upon our school children, presented as fact.

The Pulitzer Center actively helped indoctrinate children with an alternate, historically false, history. Then they congratulated themselves with their own award.

Here’s an excerpt of the letter sent to New York Times Magazine’s Editor in Chief, Jake Silverstein. The letter was signed by five distinguished historians who, politically, tend to agree with the project’s social goals, but couldn’t stomach its twisting of history.

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.

On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.”

The 1619 Project presented falsehoods and called it history. When challenged, Silverstein deflected by claiming “we are not ourselves historians.” He admitted that the project started with “why is this the way it is?” and worked backwards from there. First of all, “the way it is” today is interpreted by the way people see the world, and if, as Hannah-Jones does, the world in America is hopelessly racist and bigoted, then of course, it must have always been that way, from the very first European ship arriving to our shores.

But what if you believe America is not hopelessly racist and bigoted? In fact, it’s observably and empirically less racist and bigoted than it has ever been (unless you’re a Jew), and more so in the past fifty years. However, the truth is no barrier to good commentary, especially when the Pulitzer Center gives its imprimatur.

Essentially, the Pulitzer Center gave an award to itself. And in so doing, it made itself both the subject and the butt of a terrible joke on what consists of good writing, good commentary, and good taste.

“We are not, ourselves, historians,” Silverstein wrote. Then, stay out of history, I say.

The 1619 Project could have been something great, if it had been anything other than an outright attempt to change history and indoctrinate children in a new, woke version, where white means evil, and there were no white advocates of racial equality, only oppressors and victims based on skin color. This despicable view is in itself, racist, and has been promoted by academics such as Duke’s Thavolia Glymph who are quick with their own form of lynch mob.

Duke’s Thavolia Glymph didn’t even bother to address the substance of the Bynum signatories’ arguments, instead condemning their “tone.” Glymph’s concern is ironic; in 2006, she signed the Group of 88’s public letter proclaiming her students’ guilt in the Duke Lacrosse case, then refused to apologize when the case collapsed and the students’ innocence became clear. Princeton’s Nell Painter refused to join the Bynum signatories despite challenging another of the Project’s alleged facts—that the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619 should be considered slaves. Signing the letter, she told Serwer, would have meant joining “the white guy’s attack of something that has given a lot of black journalists and writers a chance to speak up in a really big way.” So much for the value of historians pursuing the truth.

History Without Truth, City Journal, December 31, 2019

The totally wrong way to study history is to begin with today and work backwards on a premise. Nobody serious does this, because it immediately leads to bias and bad conclusions. The philosophical error is called “begging the question” by assuming the conclusion before examining the premise. When applied to history, the result is fiction.

The 1619 Project might very well deserve a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But before that is awarded, perhaps the Pulitzer Center should give itself its own prize, in the category of comedy. They have made the prize itself a very sad joke.


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