New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens criticized the 1619 Project lauded by his employer and progressives across the country by calling it a “thesis in search of evidence.”
He spent the first few paragraphs of his latest op-ed lauding the “ambition” of the project, which sought to reframe how Americans saw the country’s origins.
“But ambition can be double-edged. Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it. We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. And we’re supposed to report and comment on the political and cultural issues of the day, not become the issue itself,” Stephens wrote. “As fresh concerns make clear, on these points — and for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.”
Those concerns, Stephens wrote, were reported by Phillip W. Magness, a scholar and critic of the 1619 Project, who wrote in Quillette that The New York Times has now replaced a passage that originally claimed the project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding” with a new one that omits this claim.
Here’s the old passage:
The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
And here’s the new one:
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It 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.
Stephens reached out to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project, after she claimed in a tweet response to Magness that the claim 1619 was America’s “true” birth year was “always a metaphoric argument.” Stephens asked Hannah-Jones “if she could point to any instances before this controversy in which she had acknowledged that her claims about 1619 as ‘our true founding’ had been merely metaphorical.”
“Her answer was that the idea of treating the 1619 date metaphorically should have been so obvious that it went without saying,” Stephens wrote. “She then challenged me to find any instance in which the project stated that ‘using 1776 as our country’s birth date is wrong,’ that it ‘should not be taught to schoolchildren,’ and that the only one ‘that should be taught’ was 1619. ‘Good luck unearthing any of us arguing that,’ she added.”
So Stephens went about finding exactly what Hannah-Jones claimed did not exist – an excerpt from New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein’s introductory essay for the project (emphasis added by Stephens):
1619. It is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?
As Stephens noted, Silverstein’s passage, which appeared in print, has been altered online to read:
1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable date in our country’s history. Those who do are at most a tiny fraction of those who can tell you that 1776 is the year of our nation’s birth. What if, however, we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619?
Silverstein told Stephens the changes were irrelevant.
Stephens criticism comes just days after a group of scholars called for Hannah-Jones to lose her Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 project.