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Martin Center President Explores the Hannah-Jones Controversy

Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center focuses on the controversy surrounding UNC-Chapel Hill’s hiring of New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Last week, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees came under fire for “viewpoint discrimination” over its decision not to offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will join UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism in July. An anonymous source reported that the decision was “a very political thing.”

But politics needn’t have come into it at all. For one thing, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has a long history of granting tenure to left-leaning faculty members—if the political make-up of the school is anything to go by. But more important is Hannah-Jones’ own record. Her history of shoddy journalism, unprofessional conduct, and lack of scholarship is more than enough to disqualify her from tenure at any university.

These shortcomings have been well-documented.

In December of 2019, five historians, led by Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz, wrote an open letter expressing their “strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project.” The signatories were a politically diverse group: Victoria Bynum at Texas State University, James M. McPherson at Princeton, James Oakes at City University of New York, and Gordon S. Wood at Brown University. They called attention to serious factual errors in the project, including its central thesis that the American Revolution was fought to protect the institution of slavery. …

… The New York Times’ own Bret Stephens invited readers to “judge for themselves whether these unacknowledged changes violate the standard obligations of transparency for New York Times journalism.” He also criticized the project for its “monocausal” explanation of complex issues as well as “categorical and totalizing assertions that are difficult to defend on close examination.” …

… Historian Steven Hahn, co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, told The Washington Post in October 2020 that he “had reservations about how [Hannah-Jones] put together her argument, particularly the passage about the Revolutionary War.” But when he shared those concerns with his fellow board members, “the majority still voted to give her the prize.”

Faculty members at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism made the same mistake.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...