The Tuesday: Keeping Up with Nikole Hannah-Jones

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BY KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 25, 2021
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WITH KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 25, 2021
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Keeping Up with Nikole Hannah-Jones

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and many other things. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, please follow this link.

Disposing of Nikole Hannah-Jones

What to make of the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones, organizer of the New York Times' sloppy and troubled 1619 Project, who has been denied, at least for the moment, tenure for a professorship at the University of North Carolina after a pressure campaign from conservative critics?

Some of the criticism is not very persuasive, and I'll begin with that.

A university trustee said that Hannah-Jones's tenure review had been put on pause because of her lack of a "traditional academic background." It is a truth universally acknowledged that professors of journalism are among the most genuinely worthless specimens walking God's green earth and that any halfway self-respecting society would exile them to the moon, and I am not at all sure that an advanced degree in journalism is more of a qualification than a disqualification when it comes to instructing students. (Set aside for the moment that journalism is not something that can be learned in a classroom. It is a trade, not an art or a science, and journalism degrees are some of the purest lab-grade bunkum ever produced.) That being stipulated, Hannah-Jones is in possession of a master's degree — from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which presumably is good enough for UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media — which is not a doctorate but is more academic preparation than many journalism professors have.

(In truth, some universities shy away from hiring their own Ph.D.s as professors. It's a weird world, but that's another story.)

The position is not described as that of a "professor of practice," but that is what most journalism professorships are — i.e., appointments for which the qualifications are more generally professional than academic. Universities hire novelists to teach writing (often with horrifying consequences) and businessmen to teach business and lawyers to teach law and painters to teach painting and architects to teach architecture. Professor Matthew McConaughey of the University of Texas is not, to my knowledge, in possession of a doctorate, nor is he famed for his scholarly sensibility. (He holds an undergraduate degree from UT; my time there overlapped with his, but our social circles did not much intersect.) He teaches a film-production class, "Script to Screen," because he has some experience with that, and because it gives the university the chance to publish this hilarious staff photo.

(Alright, alright, Governor.)

And, of course, the more persuasive criticism of Hannah-Jones is about that — her practice of journalism, which is distinct from scholarship, though the two intersect at points. The National Association of Scholars sent an open letter to the Pulitzer committee (who are weasels in full, or at least mustelid-adjacent) demanding that they revoke the prize given to Hannah-Jones, and their account, along with the case made here at National Review and elsewhere, is damning. One of the Times' own fact-checkers on the project, historian and African-American studies professor Leslie M. Harris of Northwestern University, warned the Times that key claims of the work were unsupportable. She listed other mistakes that she had communicated to the Times before the project was published but that went uncorrected.

When the Times did get around to amending the report, it did so in a guilty, sneaky, underhanded way — "stealth edits," or unacknowledged corrections — for obviously political reasons. Donald Trump, running for reelection as president, had made a pet cause of the 1619 Project, some Democrats worried that the 1619 Project was giving him rhetorical ammunition, and the editors of the Times buckled under the consequent pressure. Hannah-Jones did the cable-news circuit claiming, preposterously, that the 1619 Project had never said what it said, and the Times reworked critical passages in an attempt to deny Trump a talking point. This is intellectual dishonesty — it is intellectual dishonesty in scholarship, it is intellectual dishonesty in journalism, and it is intellectual ...   READ MORE

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