In my new book, Breaking the News: Exposing the Establishment Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption, I explain in detail that the New York Times’ “1619 Project” was never an accurate historical account, but in fact it was a part of a concerted effort by the Times to pivot the newsroom’s focus from the Trump/Russia collusion hoax to race hysteria.
I also argue that in our current “cancel culture” moment, the “1619 Project” easily meets the definition of “fake news” and fits the textbook definition of disinformation.
A brief summary:
After the Mueller Report, the New York Times was in trouble. The paper of record needed a replacement for RussiaGate, into which the Times had (profitably) poured millions of dollars. The Times rode the Trump wave to record highs, reporting $24 million in profit in 2018. But when the Russia narrative finally flamed out, the newsroom was without a clear direction.
At an internal town hall meeting in 2019, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told the newsroom that, going forward, their primary focus would be on “what it means to be an American in 2019,” which “requires imaginative use of all our muscles to write about race and class in a deeper way than we have in years.” Race would be the new issue to enrapture the Times’ core audience of card-carrying members of the anti-Trump “Resistance.”
The pivot has literally been measurable. According to Tablet Magazine, the Times’ use of the terms “racist,” “racists,” and “racism” increased 700 percent between 2011 to 2019. Use of “whiteness” increased approximately 500 to 700 percent since 2015, while instances of “white privilege” and “racial privilege” leapt about 1,200 percent between 2013 and 2019.
That August, the New York Times Magazine unveiled the “1619 Project,” an ambitious series attempting to “reframe” American history with slavery as the foundation upon which our nation was based. According to the “Project,” 1619, the date when the first ship carrying African slaves arrived in the Virginia colony, was America’s true founding and its defining moment.
Radical as it may seem, “1619” wasn’t simply a vanity project for the Times. The Pulitzer Center quickly unveiled school curriculum based on the “Project,” which won a Pulitzer Prize and was named a “Top Work of Journalism of the Decade” by New York University’s journalism school.
The “1619” vision of America is diametrically opposed to Americans’ most fundamental collective beliefs about our origin and purpose. “In God We Trust,” E Pluribus Unum, and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness had all been overemphasized by educators over the last hundreds of years, and slavery had been underestimated, or so the Times would have you believe.
But historians, and even one of “1619’s” own fact-checkers, quickly challenged key portions of the “Project.” Shortly after it was published, a group of distinguished historians wrote a letter to the Times critiquing “1619” and accusing the Times of having an “opaque” fact-checking process for the “Project’s” many historical claims. Their main objection was that the “Project” contained “factual errors” which they argued went beyond mere “framing” or “interpretation” and were “matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism.” The historians also argued that these errors “suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology” and that “[d]ismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only ‘white historians’ — has affirmed that displacement.”
That last criticism was aimed directly at the creator of the “1619 Project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, who had previously dismissed her detractors as “old, white male historians.”
Like much of “1619,” Hannah-Jones’ attack on her critics was bogus. For example, one such critic was Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history and African American studies at Northwestern University who helped fact-check “1619.” She is neither old nor white nor male, and yet she claimed that her objections went unheard at the Times.
The Times itself, which has relentlessly stood by “1619,” made changes to key sections of the essay.
The original text of the “1619 Project” contained the following passage: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”
Since publication, the words “some of” were added before the words “the colonists.” The Times noted the update with an “Editor’s Note” insisting that this massively significant correction was not in fact a “correction.”
When historians requested corrections, New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein rejected them.
Alarmingly, the original essay also contains the line “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” If Nikole Hannah-Jones truly believes this is true of America, then is it really a surprise that she would be willing to stretch and strain the truth to try to discredit the notion that we were founded in glory?
Hannah-Jones was hardly secretive about her agenda. In July 2020, she tweeted, “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is the past.”
Brazen, radical, and instantly beloved by the establishment.
Baquet continued to laud the “1619 Project” a year later, stating, “1619 is one of the most important pieces of journalism The Times has produced under my tenure as executive editor. It changed the way the country talked about race and our history.”
This is the Times’ business model. Objectivity is not their objective. They want to “teach our readers to think” more like the Times on race. Dean Baquet said as much himself: “I mean, one reason we all signed off on the ‘1619 Project’ and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that.”
This focus on race, and shaping readers’ views around it, has altered the Times’ basic standards. In 2020, the New York Times triumphantly announced it would start capitalizing the “B” in “black.” “It seems like such a minor change, black versus Black,” the Times’ national editor, Marc Lacey, explained “But for many people the capitalization of that one letter is the difference between a color and a culture.”
The Times has chosen, as of yet, not to capitalize the word “White.” (I’m capitalizing it here just this once.) Their explanation? “White doesn’t represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does, and also has long been capitalized by hate groups.”
This should be news to readers of “1619 Project,” who have been learning that our nation is rooted in white supremacy. It appears as though the New York Times only regards whiteness as a “shared culture and history” when they wish to attack white people as a group without getting blowback. Recall that criticism of the “1619 Project” by white historians was rejected specifically because of the critics’ race.
The Times, of course, has published other fake news, and they know it. But when the fake news doesn’t neatly fit the woke narrative, they seem to handle it quite a bit differently. For example, last year, the Times began reviewing Caliphate, a hit Times podcast, after Canadian authorities accused one of its central figures of lying about his involvement with ISIS. The credible challenge to one of Caliphate’s key stories was enough for the Times to trigger an internal review of the podcast, leading to a public and embarrassing retraction of one of its core claims.
There was a public reckoning.
Meanwhile, “1619,” subject to criticism no less damning, has been staunchly defended by the New York Times’ leadership and the media establishment in general.
Alex Marlow is the Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart News, the host of Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM’s Patriot Channel 125, and the author of the new book, Breaking the News: Exposing the Establishment Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption. You can follow Alex on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @AlexMarlow.