Category Archives: Racism

Why the New York Times rewrites history

UnHerd, 11/16/2021  by Ashley Rindsberg

In the world of infotainment, every media brand needs its star. And nowhere is that more true than with one of today’s most influential outlets, the New York Times. In the space of just five years, the Times has succeeded in propelling its stellar asset, Nikole Hannah-Jones, to the rarified heights of celebrity journalism, lending her magnum opus, the 1619 Project, a sanctified glow. But just over two years since 1619 was launched, all that threatens to come tumbling down: the Project has become tainted by a series of errors and inaccuracies — some of which seem to have been committed wilfully.

There’s something uniquely fascinating about the persona of the journalist who betrays his or her professional ethics. There is no medical malpractitioner of historic notoriety, no lawyer so inept or corrupt that their infamy elicits international derision a century later. In fact, it might be only in the field of espionage that we find a parallel. The reason is that, like a nation’s spies, a citizenry loans journalists its most precious asset: trust. This is even more true in secular societies where social institutions take on the characteristics of religious bodies, guiding belief and shaping public perception of reality.

In this context, no American journalist has endured the same level of historical contempt as Hannah-Jones’s most notorious New York Times predecessor, Walter Duranty. One of the reasons Duranty’s name still echoes in the halls of ignominy is because his betrayal was of such an epic nature. He was not only the Times’s top Russia correspondent during the most important period of Russian-American relations in a century (namely, the very early days of the Soviet regime) but a celebrity intellectual.

Duranty’s star had risen so high that when the United States government officially recognised the Soviet Union in 1934, he was chosen to accompany its soon-to-be ambassador to the US — and escorted the newly minted American ambassador from DC back to Moscow. Indeed, it was Duranty himself who had advised Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then at the end of his presidential campaign, that US recognition of the new Soviet regime was the correct course of action.

But that was no shock. Three years earlier, around the time that international headlines were beginning to report on a famine unfolding in the Ukraine, Duranty had reported the very opposite. It wasn’t simply that he downplayed the famine, which Robert Conquest estimated killed upward of five million people in two years; he actively denied it.

What’s often missed when discussing Duranty, however, is the intentional nature of his malfeasance. When the Times came under pressure from the Ukrainian-American community in the early Noughties to return the “Duranty Pulitzer”, the paper’s publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., went against the recommendation of a historian hired by the Times to assess the matter. The historian recommended (unsurprisingly) that the Times should return the prize. Sulzberger refused, chalking Duranty’s cover-up to nothing more than “slovenly” reporting.

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But Duranty, an Oxford-educated polyglot, was anything but slovenly. The truth of the matter could be far more disturbing, and can be found in a statement Duranty had made years earlier. In June 1931, while visiting the US embassy in Berlin to renew his passport, Duranty made a remark to a State Department official so significant that the official recorded it verbatim and entered it into the State Department record: “In agreement with the New York Times and the Soviet authorities,” Duranty told the American diplomat, “[Duranty’s] official dispatches always reflect the official opinion of the Soviet government and not his own.”

We might be tempted to think that a correspondent of a previous century would have little to do with the most celebrated journalist of the present day. Certainly, it is inconceivable that anything can compare with Duranty’s attempts to deny the Ukraine famine — and the deaths that followed. But the parallels between Duranty and Nikole Hannah-Jones seem hard to ignore. Like Duranty, Hannah-Jones has become the New York Times’s marquee reporter, her public profile taking on celebrity proportions. Hannah-Jones, like Duranty, is as often the subject of headlines as the creator of them. And, of course, there’s the Pulitzer Prize both she and Duranty won relatively early in their respective careers. But perhaps more than any of these factors, the tone and tenor of the subject matter each reporter covered set the stage for a spectacular rise and, at least in Duranty’s case (for now), an equally precipitous fall.

In her first major piece for the New York Times Magazine, where she was a staff writer, Hannah-Jones focused on school segregation — and did so through the lens of her own experience as a mother of a school-aged child. The 2016 article, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City”, placed Hannah-Jones herself squarely at the centre of the all-encompassing topic of race relations in America.

The 10,000-word piece launched Hannah-Jones into that rare elite which consists of reporters who become the focus of a larger reportorial arc. Just a week after it was published, the Times covered Hannah-Jones in an article that was part of a “Times Insider” series. Called “‘Surreal’: A Reporter Is in the Center of a Story She Covered”, the piece was written in the first person by Hannah-Jones and offered a look into the sausage factory of producing a culturally resonant piece for the New York Times. By October 2017, the Times was trumpeting Hannah-Jones in rockstar-like terms, running pieces about her with headlines such as “The Best of Nikole Hannah-Jones”.

And then came 1619, which made her as close to a household name as a journalist can in America. From an Oprah-backed film and TV production deal to appearances on NPR’s Fresh Air and The Daily Show, a talk with Moonlight creator Barry Jenkins to a 1619 book and accompanying children’s book, Hannah-Jones experienced the dazzling embrace of America’s corporate culture machine.

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Crucially, like that of Walter Duranty, Hannah-Jones’s celebrity has had the effect of coating her journalism with a lacquer which shields it from the buffeting forces of criticism. What unites that criticism, from both sides of the political aisle, is something fundamental to any work of journalism: accuracy. While some conservative outlets have attacked the 1619 Project on ideological grounds, the dozens of academics and many journalists who joined the debate intoned with a simple and hard-to-dislodge idea: the 1619 Project was not simply factually flawed, but deliberately, as Phillip Magness, one of the Project’s most vocal critics, put it, it amounts to “the sacrifice of scholarly standards in the service of the ideological objective”.

In the New York Times Magazine issue dedicated to the 1619 Project, there are the subtle but significant problems, such as the mischaracterisation of America’s early economy, which the Project emphasises was built on slavery, when, according to scholars who participated in the debate, slavery played a relatively minor role compared to the Northern industrial and commercial economy. Then there are the arguments that, when taken at face value, are simply absurd, such as the causal connection the Project draws between slavery and modern-day traffic jams in Atlanta or America’s love of sugary treats.

It’s the deeper claims of the Project, however, and specifically those made by Hannah-Jones herself, which are the most problematic — and which most closely tie Hannah-Jones to Duranty. The publication of a piece by Politico by Leslie Harris, a professor of African American history at Northwestern University, months after the 1619 Project was launched, identified the rot at the heart of the Project: “On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against with her fact-checker: that the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America.”

This claim, that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery is the fulcrum on which Hannah-Jones’s argument swings. The reason is that the 1619 Project was not simply predicated on the the idea that slavery was of consequence to American history; that is a claim most (if not all) of the Project’s most vociferous critics would not have objected to. Instead, the thesis of the 1619 Project is that America is rooted in slavery. In pursuing this mission, what Hannah-Jones attempted to do is not simply “reframe” American history (as one of the introductions to the 1619 Project claimed) but rework reality.

It’s this attempt to edit history that most closely unites Hannah-Jones’s project with that of Walter Duranty. In both cases, historical realities were tarred over in order to make way for a new narrative. But beyond the personal failings of Duranty and Hannah-Jones, there is a larger and more significant connection between the two journalists. And that, of course, is the New York Times.

It is no coincidence that two largely successful attempts to alter history and edit reality have been carried out under the aegis of the New York Times. While Duranty and Hannah-Jones took centre stage, the platform essential to each was provided by America’s self-described paper of record.

As with any corporate-backed endeavour, a costly investment such as 1619 is undertaken only when there is a likely outcome of commensurately rich rewards. This is what we so often miss about major corporate news organisations such as the Times, which is far less significantly a newsroom built on a system of editorial practices than it is a reputation, a social construct, that produces trust — as well as a business mechanism that monetises that trust and processes it into power.

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This model applies equally to the denial of the Ukraine Famine and the creation of the 1619 Project. The case of the former is explained by the drive to be positioned at the very centre of the swirl of power, influence and profit presented by the nascent, rapidly industrialising economic power of the Soviet Union that was quickly modernising the agrarian economy of tsarist Russia. The USSR was a massive market of 150 million people that for nearly two decades since the revolution had been restricted to US corporate interests.

With the 1619 Project, the New York Times’s business interests are just as decisive a factor. The Times’s management is well aware that it has to replace its audience of ageing liberals with young adherents of progressive ideologies impassioned enough to pay for the digital subscriptions that are at the heart of its business model. For the Times, this is a matter of existential significance. As a New York Times Company vice president has explained, one of the aims of 1619 is, according to NiemanLab, to “convince more of its 150 million monthly readers to pay for a subscription”.

This makes good sense considering that over a third of the Times‘s revenue now comes from digital subscriptions — and nearly two-thirds of the Times’s American audience is made up of millennial and Gen Z readers. Print subscriptions, meanwhile, are in “steady decline”; advertising is falling by close to (and sometimes more than) double digits each year.

Like all dynasties, the Sulzbergers, the billionaire family that controls the New York Times, are, in part, motivated by financial self-interest. But in the current cultural environment, where a movement of ideological upheaval is at work, it is power as much as money that lies behind what is the most significant journalistic endeavour of the past decade. The Times’s progressive turn (like that of so many American brands) is more top-down than bottom-up; it is a quest for influence rather than principle. The Times knows which way the wind is blowing and in a raging storm why not sail downwind?

The only problem with this approach — in business as much as in life — is that it doesn’t work. As Captain MacWhir in Joseph Conrad’s novella The Typhoon shouts through the raging storm to the story’s young protagonist: “They may say what they like, but the heaviest seas run with the wind.” In its cynical embrace of progressive politics, the Times runs the risk of capsizing in storm waters it mistakenly believes it can control.

The same may well be true about Nikole Hannah-Jones. To her credit, unlike Walter Duranty, Nikole Hannah-Jones does not appear to be a passenger enjoying the cushy ride of celebrity. From all appearances, she is a true believer who is not just willing but eager to make the necessary sacrifices to bring about her vision of justice in the world. Whether that makes her more or less problematic than Duranty, only time will tell.[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=404f4f7dfc&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29


The Ambassador of Blame America First

What a shame to America, to have this kind of ambassador representing us. mrossol

WSJ  4/15/21 By  The Editorial Board

Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks to the reporters at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, March 31.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is supposed to speak for American values and interests. But judging by her recent remarks, new Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is going to speak mainly about the faults of her own country.

President Biden’s Ambassador spoke Wednesday to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and her recitation of America’s sins could have come from China’s Global Times. She said one of her priorities will be addressing racial injustice and spoke of her own experience with discrimination.

Fair enough, but then she kept going: “I shared these stories and others to acknowledge, on the international stage, that I have personally experienced one of America’s greatest imperfections. I have seen for myself how the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles.”

How about American progress on race since the founding, such as the Civil War that ended slavery or the civil-rights movement? Ms. Thomas-Greenfield has other ideas.

“Racism is the problem of the racist. And it is the problem of the society that produces the racist. And in today’s world, that is every society,” she added. “In America, that takes many forms. It’s the white supremacy that led to the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other Black Americans. It’s the spike in hate crimes over the past three years—against Latino Americans, Sikh and Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and immigrants. And it’s the bullying, discrimination, brutality, and violence that Asian Americans face everyday, especially since the outbreak of Covid-19.”


Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield managed to work in a passing reference to Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya and China’s “genocide” of the Uighurs. But she put the Biden Administration’s decision to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council—with members like Cuba, China, Russia, Venezuela—largely in the context of the moral equivalence of the U.S. and those offenders.

We can only imagine what the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick, a pair of Democrats who were ambassadors to the U.N. in the 1970s and 1980s, would think of this. They made a contribution by speaking up for human rights in the Soviet Union and other countries where rights were trampled as a matter of official policy. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield seems to believe her job is to bring critical race theory to the world, with a special focus on criticizing her own country.


The Report That Shook Britain’s Race Lobby

WSJ  4/10/2021

If you’re an American who worries that your country’s influence is waning, you may not be heartened to learn that it isn’t. After last year’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, angry demonstrators in Britain, emulating Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S., took to city streets. Some committed acts of vandalism. In the port city of Bristol, a statue of a local 17th-century philanthropist was toppled because he also traded in slaves. In London’s Parliament Square, the words “Was a Racist” were daubed on the plinth of Winston Churchill’s statue.

In July the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded by impaneling the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. “We decided to step away from the heat and all that vitriol,” says its chairman, Tony Sewell, “and just take a cold look at the data on racism.” In doing so, “we examined ideas that weren’t to be questioned,” namely “the race industry’s articles of faith.” In its March 31 report, the commission concluded that while Britain isn’t yet “a post-racial society,” neither is it any longer a place where “the system” is “deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.”

As a result, Mr. Sewell, who is black—only one of the 10 other commissioners is white—has come under blistering attack. It ranges from the achingly predictable (a profusion of “Uncle Tom” accusations on Twitter ) to the grotesque. A Cambridge professor of postcolonial studies likened Mr. Sewell to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. A Labour member of Parliament suggested that he belonged in the Ku Klux Klan. Add in put-downs like “house Negro,” “token” and “race traitor,” and you have a picture of the liberal rage ignited by the commission’s refusal to endorse the belief that Britain is irremediably racist.

Mr. Sewell, 62, runs a charity that coaches black schoolchildren in science and math. “It’s a STEM pipeline program,” he says via Zoom from the study of his house in London. “It starts when they’re young and takes them up to university, using summer schools.” Thousands of black kids have been given a college opportunity they “didn’t have in the first place.” Yet he’s called an “Uncle Tom.”

He characterizes the abuse as “a sort of antiracism that borders on racism.” He also detects some desperation, “not only in black lobby groups but on the white left”: “they’re frightened of the report.” Since few ordinary citizens will read its 258 pages, its opponents have busied themselves spreading “distortions” in a bid to capture public opinion. He singles out the leftist Guardian newspaper, which published a sweeping condemnation by David Olusoga, a historian of slavery, who scorns the report as “poisonously patronising” and “historically illiterate.”

Born in London’s Brixton district, where his Jamaican parents settled after immigrating in 1957, Mr. Sewell says the country was harsh and racist, “harder than anything they had ever experienced.” He felt the sting of racism in his youth. But Britain has “come a very long way in the last 50 years.”

The report echoes that point, observing that “there is a salience and attention to race equality in the U.K. in policy-making, and in the media, which is seldom found in other European countries” and asserting that the success of much of Britain’s nonwhite population “should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries.”

Mr. Sewell says his team was careful to take a “fact-based approach” to their examination of Britain’s racial questions. In an obvious reference to activists and lobbies of the left, the report bemoans the “reluctance” in Britain to acknowledge that the country has “become open and fairer,” and singles out for attention “an increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of White discrimination.”

The report also questions the value of some cherished racial shibboleths: Do repeated assertions that the “dominant feature” of British society is institutional racism and white privilege “achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground”? If every problem in society is attributed to racism, Mr. Sewell asks, “how can Britain ever be a country at peace with itself?”

The report acknowledges disparities between races in Britain. But whites aren’t uniformly at an advantage, and Mr. Sewell and his commissioners part company with the race lobby, which blames racism for all differences between ethnic groups in education, health, prosperity and crime. Instead, the report argues that many of these disparities arise from differences in economic class, geography, family patterns and culture.

Black Caribbean children perform worse in British schools than those of any other group. “For years,” Mr. Sewell says, “it has been said that this is explained in terms of teachers’ racism.” Yet black African students—“same age, same demographic, same classroom”—had academic achievement rates higher than those of whites. In fact, he says, all ethnic groups other than Caribbean blacks perform better than white British students, with the exception of Pakistanis, who are on par with whites.

Mr. Sewell says that you can’t understand ethnic differences in outcome—particularly in education and crime—without focusing on what he calls “family strain,” the effect of single-parent families. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a race report,” he says, “that looks at the family and links disparities to the family.” Race activists, he explains, “just take all questions about single-parent families off the table.”

It’s a distant echo of the U.S. in 1965, when Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan prompted controversy with his seminal report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” But Mr. Sewell emphasizes the differences between the American and British experiences with race. “I think it’s dangerous to compare the two places,” he says. “I do think there are very specific issues in the U.S. that come out of having a society that was based on slavery inside that country. Britain isn’t built like that, and blacks here haven’t got that same length of time that black Americans have been in their own country.” He also says that the U.S. has a “significant black middle class that Britain doesn’t really have.”

Although it deals with family structure in less detail than the Moynihan report, the Sewell report contains sobering numbers. While 14.7% of all British families are single-parent units, the share is 63% in the black Caribbean community. Britons of Indian origin have the lowest single-parent incidence—only 6%. Mr. Sewell says these numbers are like tinder in public debates on race. If he were to go on TV and observe that 6 of 10 black Caribbean children grow up with only one parent, he would “be shot down for stigmatizing the single parent and blaming the victim. The headlines would say, ‘Commissioner Blames Single Parents.’ Actually, no—they would say, ‘Commissioner Attacks Single Parents.’ ”

Mr. Sewell stresses that he has “no problems, in and of itself, with the single-parent design,” but single parents “are not getting the support they need” and that the commission recommends they receive. Absent any acknowledgment of the sociocultural strain such families face, there is no policy to provide them with “therapeutic assistance, conflict management and educational support.” When their children underperform at school and are later incarcerated, racism is the catchall explanation.

A notable recommendation of the Sewell report is that Britain abandon the ugly acronym BAME, which stands for “black, Asian and minority ethnic.” Numbers from the most recent U.K. census, conducted in 2011, indicate that 7.5% of the population is Asian (0.7% Chinese, most of the rest from the Indian subcontinent), 3.3% black (of whom one-third are of Caribbean origin), and 86% white. “We need to disaggregate the term ‘BAME.’ ” Mr. Sewell says. This ethnic portmanteau “just lumps everyone together.” He offers examples: “The category ‘Asian’ includes prosperous Gujarati consultants in London and impoverished Pakistani taxi drivers in Bradford.” Within the “black” cohort, the Caribbean school-expulsion rate is 3.5 times that of Africans. “The idea that all ethnic minority people suffer a common disadvantage is an anachronism,” Mr. Sewell says. Forty percent of Britain’s medical clinicians are Indian: “This last fact isn’t celebrated, by the way. This is hidden.”

Perhaps the report’s most striking aspect is its emphasis on class and geography as more powerful drivers than race of disadvantage in Britain. “Of course, once you start shifting the template,” he says, “you get accused of race denial. And then you become an ‘apologist’ for racism in the eyes of the critics.” Yet with a focus on class, says Mr. Sewell, “we’re able to bring everybody together, including the white poor—what we might call the British deplorables, to use Hillary Clinton’s remark.”

A race-centered narrative lumps white people together. This is a problem, he says, “especially when you talk about white privilege, and you have white people in Britain who are doing worse than everyone else in health, education and employment. . . . You can’t ignore disadvantaged whites, even if the race lobby thinks you’re watering down their issue.”

Mr. Sewell isn’t surprised by the venom that’s been directed against him. A network of charities, consultants, researchers, academic departments and political activists are “literally invested” in keeping the idea of racism alive. “People have a financial stake in this area, so there’s a sense that they’ve got to protect their own base.”

Yet Mr. Sewell acknowledges that racism can’t be wholly eliminated. “I’m not that naive,” he says. “But what I do think you can do is to build a society where those people who experience it are protected.” Fairness is the key—for blacks, whites and everybody else. He worries that Britain’s “young people are growing cynical” by internalizing the lobby groups’ insistence that “the door is closed” on the basis of race.

“Our message is that the door is open”—that Britain is, or at least aspires to be, a society “where, genuinely, everybody gets a chance, where everybody gets a fair opportunity.”

Mr. Varadarajan, a Journal contributor, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at New York University Law School’s Classical Liberal Institute.