Category Archives: Racism

A requiem for Black Lives Matter?

By Wilfred Reilly, Sept. 20, 2022

Source: A requiem for Black Lives Matter – spiked

Black Lives Matter has yet to receive a requiem, a summation in print. More than seven years into the globally unavoidable anti-police movement, there certainly exists a sizable BLM academic literature, dealing – as my political science colleague Bob Maranto has pointed out – with questions ranging from how the movement impacted on youth-voter turnout to the social impact of Ben & Jerry’s selling politically themed flavours of ice-cream.

However, almost no one has examined how well Black Lives Matter met its initial goals: reducing the police violence that was invariably presented as ‘epidemic’ or ‘genocidal’ and reducing crime more broadly, as brothers and others came to trust a fairer criminal justice system. For that matter, whatever happened to the literally billions of dollars donated, in good faith, to national and local BLM chapters?

This article takes a shot at those tough questions. In most cases, unfortunately, the blunt but real answer seems to be: Black Lives Matter had few, if any, positive impacts. Police violence is down slightly, if at all, while overall crime in BLM-affected areas has sky-rocketed back to 1990s levels. As Dr Maranto and I recently noted for Commentary magazine, rates of fatal shootings of civilians by US police – per an authoritative database from the Washington Post – appear to have hardly budged during the post-2014 BLM era. There were 994 fatal police shootings in toto in 2015, 958 in 2016, 981 in 2017, 993 in 2018, 999 in 2019, and 1,020 in 2020.

Not only was this change in rate clearly not significant in statistical terms, police shootings of citizens actually increased almost three per cent during the period under review. Fatal police shootings specifically of black Americans followed a very similar pattern year-on-year, with 258 black men and women shot in 2015, 236 shot in 2016, 222 in 2017, 228 in 2018, 251 in 2019, and 243 in 2020. The same was true for killings of unarmed persons: 95 ‘fatal shootings of an unarmed individual’ did take place in the outlier year of 2015, but we then saw 64 in 2016, 71 in 2017, 58 in 2018, 54 in 2019, and 60 in 2020 – a variance of less than seven per cent between the first typical year given here and the last.

It should be noted, honestly, that shootings specifically of unarmed (32) and black (178) individuals did decline sharply in 2021, following the Summer of Floyd. However, it is not obvious that this represents the start of any sort of novel pattern: at least 20 unarmed individuals had already been shot and killed by police when I fact-checked this year’s Washington Post database back in July. Furthermore, overall rates of police violence appear actually to be on the rise: 1,054 citizens were fatally shot by law enforcement officers in 2021, versus 1,020 in 2020, and the US is currently on pace for approximately 1,100 such killings in 2022 (we stand at 744 three weeks into month nine of the calendar). The picture here is complex.

In contrast, the post-BLM picture of American trends in street crime is quite simple: serious crime has sky-rocketed in recent years. The most reliable annual crime data are the homicide figures, and as Jason Johnson – police researcher, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, and former deputy police commissioner of Baltimore – points out: ‘[In 2020] the United States tallied more than 20,000 murders – the highest total since 1995 and 4,000 more than in 2019.’ This surge is remarkable when analysed at the level of any hard-hit individual city: NYC ‘added more than 100 additional homicides’ in 2020 and endured a 58 per cent overall increase in the murder rate.

New York hardly suffered alone. In the ‘Second City’ of Chicago, my hometown, the already world-famous murder rate increased by 65 per cent. Our friendly southern rivals saw surges of the same kind. Murders in St Louis hit the highest level in half a century, reaching a benchmark of 87 killings per 100,000 residents (the rate in El Salvador today is 61.8 per 100,000). The criminologist Jeff Asher points out that homicides in my new home of Louisville (KY) had jumped 80 per cent – from 78 in 2019 to 139 in 2020 – by the time he compiled his primary data set in October of the latter year.

The same pattern that explains each of these specific case studies was also easy to see more generally. The 2020-21 report from the Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice (CCCJ) points out that, across basically all of 21 major US cities that opted to provide the project with data, ‘murder rates jumped more than 30 per cent fall-over-fall and more than 40 per cent summer-over-summer from 2019 to 2020’. Across the set of cities contributing information to this initiative – recall that 331 US cities currently have a population of more than 100,000 – murders soared by 610 between 2019 and 2020. And, importantly if unsurprisingly, almost all other serious violent crimes followed the same pattern: ‘Aggravated assaults went up by 15 per cent in the summer and 13 per cent in the fall of 2020; gun assaults increased by 15 and 16 per cent.’ To the extent that they are available, many – though not all – 2021 crime figures show the continuation of very similar patterns.

Many truly innovative, and sometimes entertaining, explanations for this massive nationwide surge in crime have been advanced on the American political left – readers with a sense of humour might want to check out this article from Vox. However, Dr Maranto, Johnson, and I and most other serious scholars writing in this field have no issue linking the crime wave to specific policies championed by Black Lives Matter and similar groups. While drastically reducing police budgets, which several major cities truly did do, can hardly have helped with the crime problem, the most obvious such policy was plain ‘police pullback’ – the reduction of officer stops of suspicious individuals and vehicles, ‘stop-and-frisks’, and other basically voluntary interactions between law-enforcement officers and citizens.

The data bear this out. In NYC, Chicago and Louisville, the just-mentioned surges in homicide followed decreases in officer-initiated stops (and subsequent arrests) of respectively 38 per cent, 53 per cent, and 45 per cent. In NYC, between June and December of 2020, the NYPD recorded an amazing 45,000 fewer arrests than it had during the same ‘six-month fiscal’ the year before. The results were predictable.

They were also nothing new. The modern leftist ‘kinder and gentle’ approach to the policing of tough urban areas has been tried over and over since its genesis during the 1960s, and the results have always been basically the same. Back in 2016, during the first wave of what has now been seven or eight years of BLM unrest in the US, a neighbourhood Chicago paper – with a heavily black readership – ran the tear-jerking but unremarkable headline: ‘Chicago Police Stops Down 90 per cent… Gun Violence Sky-Rockets.’ Decades before this, the Miranda v Arizona and Escobedo v Illinois legal cases, fruit of the poisoned-tree evidence doctrine, both shifted the balance of power in interrogations in favour of suspects. Meanwhile, the community policing movement, ‘maximum sentence’ campaigns and so forth of the 1960s led directly to a brutal new normal for American crime, which endured until the Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani backlash of the fed-up post-OJ 1990s.

Of what do I speak? For those too young to remember 1990s dramas like Kids and New Jack City, it is important to remember how bad crime in urban America used to be. Between 1963 and 1993, murders, rapes and robberies on an annual basis increased from baselines of 8,640, 17,650, and 116,470 respectively to 24,530, 106,010, and 659,870 – increases in the 500 per cent range that far outstripped any effect of population growth. The ‘Post-BLM Effect’ has been similar if smaller: US murders had dropped to 14,164 in 2014, before surging back over the hated 20,000 mark today. And there seems little doubt of a causal relationship here. The highly professional CCCJ report notes that: ‘Homicides, aggravated assaults and gun assaults rose significantly beginning in late May and June of 2020.’ As we know, George Floyd died on 25 May 2020, and widespread unrest and police pullback began almost immediately afterward.

Did Black Lives Matter help any ‘Black folX’ live better black lives, a wit might ask? Setting aside some genuine good works by local chapters like Hawk Newsome’s, a cynical but real answer would seem to be that the movement certainly helped its original founders, current leaders, and their favourite charities. As The Economist pointed out, donations to BLM-related causes – the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) and other NGOs at the heart of international BLM – between May and December 2020 amounted to $10.6 billion. And most regular American black working men or anti-racist British punks would likely be a bit bemused to find out where most of that money has gone.

Per my investigative article for spiked on this topic, a shortlist of causes to receive at least a six-figure grant from BLMGNF includes: ‘Trans United, the Audrey Lorde Project (Trans Justice), Black Trans Circles, the Transgender District, the Black Trans Travel Fund, the Okra Project, For the Gworls, the Trans Justice Funding Project, the Trans Housing Coalitions Homeless Black Trans Women’s Fund, Black Trans Media, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.’ Very probably, BLMGNF – an entity which is ‘unapologetically queer’ – has committed more money to gay and particularly trans-advocacy organisations than to black groups focused on improving the ‘hood’ or fighting police brutality. Indeed, a collective of urban Black Lives Matter chapters known as the #BLM10, which includes the significant New Jersey and Hudson Valley branches of the organisation, has publicly complained that its chapters have received ‘little to no financial support’ since BLM’s launch in 2013.

Be that as it may, organisational contributions and individual speaking fees have certainly enabled a pleasant lifestyle for the Black Lives Matter national leadership team, as well as those affiliated with the charities they support. During 2020 and 2021, former BLMGNF CEO Patrisse Cullors made headlines repeatedly because of her taste in luxury real estate – purchasing ‘a custom ranch … featuring a private aeroplane hangar’ on 3.2 acres of prime Georgia land, and a 2,370 square foot Topanga Canyon property including ‘two houses on a quarter acre’, as well as checking out a third property in a trendy Bahamas resort ‘where Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods both have homes’. These new toys joined the two homes she already owned: an $800,000 property in Inglewood, and a $720,000 home in diverse but gentrifying South LA. From the balcony of any of those, glass in hand, revolution must seem a fine thing indeed.

From my perspective on a typical American street, however, a quick and negative summary of the effects of BLM comes immediately to mind: Black Lives Matter got a lot of black people killed.

Wilfred Reilly is a spiked columnist and the author of Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About, published by Regnery. Follow him on Twitter: @wil_da_beast630

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Tech was supposed to be a meritocracy. In India, it reinforces old caste divides in new ways

Rest of the World, 1/19/2022  by Raksha Kumar

hen Manoj began his first job at a tech company in Bengaluru in December 2015, he got off to a good start. On his first day, his boss sent him a box of chocolates, and colleagues chatted to him about their connections to his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

But on the morning of January 20, 2016, something changed. Manoj’s team leader greeted him with a smirk. At lunch, a colleague casually remarked, “I didn’t know you were a reservation guy.”

Within the Indian IT industry, “reservation” is almost a dirty word. It refers to a type of affirmative action in India that provides historically disadvantaged groups, such as oppressed castes, quotas in education and employment, with the aim of increasing their representation.

Manoj had not told his coworkers that he was a Dalit, a member of the most oppressed group in India’s traditional caste system. His colleague’s comment, he realized, must have referred to his recent Facebook post grieving the death of Rohith Vemula, a 26-year-old Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad, who had died by suicide in mid-January, following struggles with caste prejudice on campus. Manoj had concluded the post saying: “Vemula’s fate could be any one of ours.”

When his colleague referred to him as a “reservation guy,” it was not just because Manoj was supportive of the quotas for oppressed castes but because he had revealed himself to be a beneficiary of such quotas too. After that day, “I felt like a fish out of water,” Manoj said. “It was my first job, and I got a taste of what the tech industry was like.”

Manoj quit that company a few months later and currently works at a multinational tech corporation in Bengaluru. He requested anonymity for this story because his company contract forbids him from speaking to the media.

Such discrimination — sometimes subtle and sometimes direct — is rampant in India’s estimated $194 billion tech industry, according to 35 tech industry workers that Rest of World spoke to for this story. Many of them were hesitant to share their stories publicly for fear of backlash at their workplaces or a negative impact on their future career prospects.

Yet the idea of caste-based discrimination is rarely discussed in the Indian tech sector. “Caste discrimination is felt at a deeper level,” said Dhruva, a tech worker from a disadvantaged caste who works at a large edtech firm and was also granted anonymity for this story. “One need not say anything, but small actions, intonation, or even body language emit bias against the disadvantaged castes in the workplace.”

“In India, working in the IT sector means one can rise up the economic ladder within the same generation.”

In India, caste is traditionally linked to professions; those who were born into a specific caste did a particular kind of job. Those considered to be lowest on this ladder, the Dalits, were relegated to doing “dirty” work, such as manual scavenging, and were pejoratively called “untouchables.” After India gained independence in 1947, the government introduced a reservation system to give Dalits, known officially as Scheduled Castes (SC), and indigenous communities, known as Scheduled Tribes (ST), greater access to education and government jobs. In the early 1990s, the country expanded the reservation system to include the middle castes, known as Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

As a result, opportunities in government employment for the dominant castes (or “General Category,” who make up about 30% of the general population) shrunk from approximately 73% to about 50%. “This pushed the dominant castes towards the rapidly growing IT industry, which was slowly coming out of the clutches of the government,” said Amandeep Sandhu, tech writer and author. “The sector still remains largely unregulated.”

Most IT companies in India are privately owned and are not required to comply with the government’s affirmative action policies. This cemented the view that entry into the tech industry was purely based on individual capability and that factors such as religion, gender, and caste were irrelevant. Given its close links to U.S. companies, the IT sector came with the promise of creating a level playing field where people could succeed solely on merit.

But in reality, tech did not make the world flatter. Instead, caste hierarchies replicated themselves within the industry. One 2011 report on caste in the Indian IT sector concludes “that caste is not disappearing from Indian society; rather, it is dramatically adapting to modern circumstances.”

IT, which employed nearly 4.5 million people in spring 2021, accounted for 8% of India’s GDP in 2020. “In India, working in the IT sector means one can rise up the economic ladder within the same generation,” said Murali Shanmugavelan, a faculty fellow at Data and Society, a non-profit research organization. Tech jobs are therefore highly sought-after.

There is no widely collected data that tracks diversity in the Indian IT industry when it comes to caste or other identifiers.

It was in fact a case in the U.S., rather than India, that recently brought the issue to the world’s attention. In June 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against American tech conglomerate Cisco alleging discrimination against an Indian Dalit engineer — listed as “John Doe” in the complaint — over his caste. The engineer, who had immigrated from India to the U.S., alleged that two of his dominant caste co-workers, also Indian immigrants, harassed him. In fall 2021, the case was voluntarily dismissed, and was later refiled at the state level, where it is still ongoing.

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But even as the case makes headlines in the U.S., the tech industry in India remains quiet on caste bias. Anil Wagde is a member of the Ambedkar International Center, a U.S.-based organization which advocates for democracy in Indian society and which was admitted as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” in the Cisco case. He suggests that caste has seeped into the Indian psyche so much that unless something drastic happens, no one takes note. “No one cries for those who die every day,” he told Rest of World.

In addition, “many people are blind to their privilege,” said Carol Upadhya, professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

The barriers for historically oppressed castes to enter the tech industry start early. Access to quality primary education is not uniform across all communities. Those at the top of the caste hierarchy are mostly economically better off and can afford English-language schools, with better faculty and facilities, whereas many poorer people are schooled in regional languages, said Rajesh Ramachandran, senior lecturer at Monash University, Malaysia. This means that many dominant caste children get a head start.

Dalit engineering Ph.D. student Jyoti Lavania and her brother were first-generation graduates in their family. “Let alone coach me on how to enter IT, no one in my family could help me with basic mathematics or English during my school years,” she said. Her parents had struggled through secondary school. This is true of many Dalit families, explained Prashant Tambe, a social activist who founded an IT and commerce college called Modern College in Nagpur. “Many are first-generation literates; they have no help at home,” Tambe said.

Faced with such difficulties, many Dalits settle for non-engineering degrees. “A B.A. or a B.Com. [Bachelor of Commerce] can be done in their own language, at a college that is easily accessible to them,” Tambe said. (Engineering degrees are largely taught in English.)

“Many are first-generation literates, they have no help at home.”

Technology colleges are often set up in urban areas, which means those living in villages have to commute long distances to access them. Though most engineering colleges offer residential courses, they are out of reach for students from poorer backgrounds, not to mention that a technology degree is costlier — approximately three times more expensive than a B.A., for instance.

Reservations, which mean that schools or colleges must accept a certain number of Dalit students each year, were designed to ensure greater opportunities amid such inequalities. But the system doesn’t always work as intended.

The prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, come under the government mandated quota of 27% reservation for OBCs and 15% and 7.5% for SCs and STs, respectively. But this does not necessarily ensure diversity at these elite institutions.

In December 2020, in response to a Right To Information application filed by student organization Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle, IIT Bombay said 11 departments – including four engineering departments – at the institute did not admit a single student belonging to Scheduled Tribes between 2015 and 2019. Two departments did not admit any SC students at all. IIT Bombay did not respond to a request for comment.

Admission into an IIT is seen as a ticket to a “better” life, as these colleges are ranked among the top engineering institutes globally and attract the top recruiters from across the world each year. But even if Dalit students overcome the challenges of their early education to get into an IIT, they often deal with resentment and caste prejudice.

According to a documentary organized by a student group, 18 Dalit students in premier institutes of higher education in India died by suicide between 2007 and 2011 after being victims of caste-based discrimination.

In 2021, a video of an associate professor at IIT Kharagpur verbally harassing reservation students in a preparatory class sparked outrage about how minorities are treated in India’s elite institutions.

Wagde, who was admitted to the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta in 1996, said one professor suspected that his original contribution to a key project was not his own. “They could not believe a reservation candidate could do well,” he said.

When students from less privileged backgrounds manage to cross the multiple hurdles in higher education, they hit the next roadblock: securing jobs.

“They could not believe a reservation candidate could do well.”

“Since Hindu upper castes constitute almost 67% of engineering and technology graduates, it would not be surprising to find that upwards of 70% of the IT workforce are upper caste,” wrote Carol Upadhya in her 2007 paper “Employment, Exclusion and ‘Merit’ in the Indian IT Industry.” Most reputed companies visit only premier engineering colleges for campus recruitments, and the interviews include written tests and group discussions in English.

“I was asked to speak about demonetization during my group discussion,” said Varun, who graduated in 2021 and works in a small software firm based in Gurugram. “I froze for several minutes, unable to speak.” Varun, who requested anonymity because his company policy forbids him from speaking to the media, studied in an engineering college in the northern Indian state of Haryana. It is not that he was unaware that Prime Minister Narendra Modi – in an attempt to curb ‘black money’ – had banned 86% of the country’s banknotes in November 2016; however, he was more familiar with the Hindi terms for demonetization — notebandi or vimudrikaran. “If they had asked me to talk about notebandi, I was capable of giving them a speech for hours,” he said.

After the group discussion, there are personal interviews. When Tambe, who would later found Modern College, conducted interviews, he “personally invited students from oppressed castes to come to the interview,” he said. “Almost 90% don’t turn up for interviews, as they fear their English-language skills are not up to the mark.”

For senior roles, alumni networks and other connections become useful. Most hiring managers are from premier institutions, and they tend to look for graduates from similar institutions, said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of U.S.-based Dalit civil rights organization Equality Labs. “If you have crossed paths with them in their careers somewhere, they trust you more,” she said.

In older industries, family ties, village bonds, and caste have long played a role in securing jobs. The IT sector claims to have ushered in merit-based hiring instead of nepotistic practices. “But, if the tech industry largely limits itself to urban, English-speaking, upwardly mobile recruits, they have just repackaged older forms of nepotism,” said Data and Society’s Shanmugavelan.

Most tech recruitment happens through referrals, said Vinod A.J., the general secretary of the All India Forum for IT Employees, adding that “this is how people from the same communities climb up the ladder.”

However, if the tables are turned and a Dalit specifically recruits Dalits, it is not received the same way. Chandru (who requested anonymity as he is not authorised by his company to speak to media), who was born to a Dalit family, has a senior management position in one of the top software companies in India and set out to hire six people for their office in the central city of Pune. “I got referrals from people I trust and recruited them based on their abilities,” said Chandru.

Senior management in his firm was furious that the six people he recruited were Dalit, Chandru said. Six months later, when their probationary period was over, Chandru said that all six were asked to leave. Rest of World has sought a response from the company in question.

Even within tech companies that hire a more diverse staff, a stratification of roles has manifested. “While graduates from the IITs and other premier institutions land the best jobs [in multinational corporations and the more challenging technical jobs in reputed companies], those from tier-two and -three colleges tend to be slotted into the more routine and low-end jobs,” Upadhya wrote in her study. For instance, several of the large Indian software services companies prefer to hire students from tier-three campuses rather than from the top-ranking colleges. As one HR manager put it to Upadhya, they require “guys who can just sit and code and not ask questions.”

Take into account the support staff, said Tambe, who is currently conducting a diversity study for a multinational tech firm, and a different picture emerges. “Count the drivers, cleaners, housekeeping staff etc.,” he specified, “and the numbers of Dalit and Adivasi (Scheduled Tribes) recruits will increase.”

Even after having overcome the many obstacles in education and hiring by getting a position in a tech company, employees from oppressed castes can still face discrimination.

Hemant, an employee at a pharma tech company, used to work at a Chennai-based software firm whose leadership was predominantly Brahmin — those at the top of the caste hierarchy. “My surname can pass off as a Tamil Brahmin surname, so I wouldn’t know if I faced positive discrimination because of that in my last company,” he said, speaking anonymously because his current company still has business ties with his previous employer. “The only time they found out about my caste was when we went out for team lunches and I ate nonvegetarian food.” Many dominant caste communities follow vegetarianism. Hemant said he was not ostracized because of his food choices, but he could sense that his colleagues perceived him differently from then on. “I was not a part of the pack anymore,” he said. His coworkers began having team lunches without him.

“I would have gone to the HR, but his relative was running the department.”

In the north Indian city of Noida, Shilpa, also speaking anonymously, worked in a family-run technology firm for six months. During this time, her boss made lewd comments and often came uncomfortably close to her. “I would have gone to the HR, but his relative was running the department,” she said.

Shilpa felt that the sexual harassment she experienced was partly due to the fact that she belonged to an oppressed caste. Dalit women face a double whammy of discrimination, as they carry the burden of both caste and gender bias, said Soundararajan. According to the most recent figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, about 10 Dalit women are raped every day in India, and the number of offenses that go unreported is estimated to be much higher.

Shilpa quit the job, unable to tolerate the harassment. “I left IT for two years, until I could get the courage to go back,” she said.

Even among those who avoid direct harassment, several professionals told Rest of World they felt their caste was an impediment to their career growth. “I know I’m not progressing in my current company because I am out as a Dalit,” said Ravi (not his real name), who works in a Hyderabad-based technology firm. “From day one, I place an image of Dr. Ambedkar and my social media is open.” Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of the primary authors of the Indian Constitution, was a Dalit.

As a result, many Dalit tech workers face a difficult choice of how much to reveal about their caste identity. For Ravi, there is no real option. “I have lived the other way, too, where you are hidden. You can progress that way, but your spirit regresses,” he said. “This way I may have a smaller life, but at least I have my integrity. I know my teammates tolerate me, but I will never be one of them.”

https://restofworld.org/2022/tech-india-caste-divides/?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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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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American education needs a revolution

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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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The media’s betrayal of the poor

By Batya Ungar-Sargon

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.

https://unherd.com/2021/11/why-the-new-york-times-rewrites-history/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=404f4f7dfc&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29

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