May the Best Hoax Win

Published: May 19, 2020
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Last August, when the world was a simpler place, I visited my 94-year-old friend in her upstate summer home and noticed an open copy of The New York Times Magazine on her kitchen table. My friend is a broadminded refugee who escaped Nazi Germany with her family after Kristallnacht, settled and prospered in New York, and has since found it difficult to wean herself from The New York Times. But even she was visibly annoyed at that Sunday magazine’s cover story, entitled “The 1619 Project.”

The title’s cryptic number refers to the date that the first black slaves arrived in the British colonies of North America. And the premise of the project goes something like this: America is a nation built upon the “shameful history” of black people’s suffering and toil, which did not begin with the American Revolution of 1776, but rather with the arrival of slaves to these shores. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, which was fought “in order to ensure slavery would continue,” all subsequent events on American soil are predicated on blacks’ subjugation. As the lead essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who publicly advocates for reparations, begins, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

Cautioning its readers, the magazine’s editors issued “a word of warning” regarding “gruesome material” in the accompanying articles, which they claimed was necessary to “truthfully” relate the black American experience. Thus, we have a premier newspaper, which buried in its back pages news of Nazi brutality in the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, spare no sensationalism in order to better peddle its agenda of racial injustice.

I understood my friend’s irritation. According to the lead story, her beloved adopted country is nothing more than “a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie,” whose “democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” and where “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”

These false assertions buttress an initiative that The New York Times claims “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.” Historical scholars from both the right and the left slammed the project as presenting “racialist falsification,” “dangerous tropes” and an “explicitly anti-capitalist assessment of the economics of slavery.”

But a newspaper with a penchant for “narratives” and a history of “reframing” didn’t bow. Why should it? Two weeks ago, slipped surreptitiously between COVID-19 stories, came the news that Ms. Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her lead essay and for spearheading “The 1619 Project.”

What is particularly pernicious about rewarding this piece of historical revisionism is the legitimacy it bestows upon an endeavor that aims to move beyond the pages of a New York Times Magazine and into the broader sphere of education. The distortion of history and its implied messages are now taught in school districts around the country, many accessing educational resources provided by the Pulitzer Center itself. We now have school-age children being indoctrinated with the fallacies of leftist ideology, which only serve to deepen grievances, inducing abdicated responsibility by blaming others for perpetrated ills, and manufacturing false expectations.

But this is not the first time the Pulitzer Board has backed a journalistic con job. Coincidentally or not, their bestowing their top prize to the “1619” hoax coincided with the Justice Department’s seeking to drop charges against former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Remember Russian collusion? The Pulitzer Board would probably prefer not to. Especially since it awarded The New York Times and the Washington Post the 2018 national reporting award for covering that now utterly debunked hoax. The award was conferred upon the two newspapers’ staff for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign.” Instead, the newspapers hijacked public interest and deeply and relentlessly interfered in innocent lives in order to disqualify the Trump campaign and ultimately Trump himself.

Is it any wonder that “fake news” has eroded the public’s trust in news itself? There is something rotten in the state of journalism when features and opinion pieces parade as news stories and when readers need to first identify a news outlet in order to verify its contents.

Beyond the frustration of obtaining reliable news sources, however, a real danger exists by pushing propaganda in print and on the screen. Journalism has the power to change facts on the ground and destroy or raise up ideas and individuals.

Take the Palestinian narrative, wherein a whole nation, history and land were erected out of falsified facts and figures and presented to the world as truth. Yes, the world was eager to accept the plot, but it would never have succeeded without the media’s eager participation and promotion. The term “Palestinian” itself is a misnomer, but a manipulative media has built it into a household term for an underdog.

Even something as deadly as COVID-19 wasn’t spared, with journalists exploiting the political divide over management, treatment, and the economy. Left-leaning news outlets, always eager to defend a socialist, slammed President Trump as a racist for wanting to rename the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” And while they ignore Joe Biden’s bumbling utterances, every word Trump says can and will be used against him.

Joseph Pulitzer, the “Father of Journalism,” was a Hungarian Jew who immigrated penniless to America and built a publishing empire. Proposing the founding of a school of journalism, he cited the threat of corruption in his proposal in 1904, “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.” Though Pulitzer resorted to yellow journalism to drive up circulation, even he would have shuddered to see his name attached to the “base” enterprises too many members of the press have sunk to today.