The top donor to the University of North Carolina School of Journalism reportedly lobbied his hiring of Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, arguing that his prolific “1619 Project” did not grant not enough credit to whites and was not what he considered objective journalism.
Walter Hussman – a former student whose $ 25 million donation to the school resulted in his name on the institution – contacted at least one board member, senior administrative officials and at least one other donor about his concerns about the UNC’s hiring of Hannah-Jones, according to emails obtained and reports from North Carolina digital magazine The Assembly.
“I am concerned about the controversy of tying the UNC School of Journalism to Project 1619,” Hussman, who is white, reportedly wrote in a December email to Dean Susan King School. “I agree more with Pulitzer Prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than with Nikole Hannah-Jones.”
“These historians seem to push me to find the real historical facts. Based on her own words, many will conclude that she is trying to move an agenda forward and assume that she is manipulating historical facts to support it. If I am asked about this, I will have to be honest in saying that I agree with historians.
Hannah-Jones, who is black, created the award-winning “1619 Project” with the New York Times Magazine to highlight revisionist history and examine how anti-black racism and the legacy of slavery played a role. important in the United States. the story. The project uses essays, videos and photographs to examine how racism has been part of American culture since the first enslaved Africans were landed in 1619.
Hannah-Jones’s work has indeed led curators and some historians to criticize the content and teaching of the project, especially its introductory essay. But many historians, journalists, teachers, and civil rights activists support it, with Hannah-Jones being inducted as a fellow of the Society of American Historians.
Hussman, a businessman and publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, told the Assembly he would not discuss his communication with university officials about Hannah-Jones because he considers himself as a working journalist (however, he confirmed the substance of his emails to the publication).
The donor went to great lengths create a public image of a person concerned with journalistic objectivity and neutrality, however, emails obtained by the Assembly paint a picture of interference and advocacy behind the scenes. Hussman also didn’t help his image of objectivity when he appeared on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s 2019 show to talk about objectivity, nodding as Carlson said: “A clear line between news and opinion… I think we have it here. “
In a September email obtained by the Assembly, Hussman objected to a section of Hannah-Jones’ 1619 essay on the country’s post-WWII civil rights struggle, in which she wrote: “For the most part black Americans fought back on their own. “
“I think this claim denigrates the courageous efforts of many white Americans to tackle the sin of slavery and the racial injustices that resulted after the Civil War,” Hussman reportedly said in the email, listing whites who fought for racial equality like some Freedom Riders. and journalists from the South.
“Long before Nikole Hannah-Jones won her Pulitzer Prize, courageous white southerners risking their lives to defend the rights of blacks also won Pulizer Prizes,” he continued, according to the Assembly.
Hannah-Jones has not released an official response to the Assembly report, but she tweeted the “excellent, albeit disappointing” article on Sunday while expressing shock at Hussman’s comment on Pulitzer. The reporter also said that, while unrelated to her credentials, “I have long given black and white journalists credit for inspiring my own journalism,” pointing to her website which included specific names “for years”.
Neither the university’s journalism school nor dean, Susan King, immediately responded to HuffPost’s request for comment. King pleaded for the UNC to give Hannah-Jones the warrant, publish a statement wednesday saying she is a “once-in-a-lifetime journalist whose investigative methods and reporting define a career and an era.”
In April, UNC announced that Hannah-Jones would join the School of Journalism in July as the Knight Chair in Racial and Investigative Journalism, a position the Knight Foundation director of journalism said was held by “highly respected news leaders who bring ideas about journalism” and whose work “helps keep communities informed and strengthens democracy.” Hannah-Jones received her MA in Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2003 before covering Academic Equity for The News & Observer, Civil Rights for ProPublica, and Racial Injustice for The New York Times Magazine in 2015.
Hannah-Jones applied for tenure, which would give her a permanent job at the university. The tenure faculty and board carefully considered her application and recommended tenure, but the UNC-Chapel Hill board turned her down, as NC Policy Watch first reported. It was the first time that the board of trustees of UNC’s flagship campus did not immediately offer tenure to a Knight Chair.
Last week, more than 250 public figures and prominent advocates signed a letter of support for Hannah-Jones, accusing the UNC of giving in to pressure from conservatives opposed to her project. In addition to the letter, 40 faculty members from the Hussman School and more than 50 from other UNC schools issued a statement calling the board’s decision “concerning” and “disheartening.”
Hannah-Jones said on Friday she was considering legal action against the university and set a June 4 deadline for a renewed tenure offer to avoid litigation. The reporter said she had no desire “to bring trouble or a political storm to the university”, but was forced to fight back.
“As a black woman who has built an almost two-decade long career in journalism, I believe that Americans who research, study, and publish work that exposes uncomfortable truths about past and present manifestations of racism in our society should be able to follow these prosecutions without risking their civil and constitutional rights, ”she wrote in her statement.
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