In a sweeping and ambitious journalistic project, the New York Times on Sunday launched its 1619 series, reframing the American story around a single, pivotal historical event: the arrival to America 400 years ago this month of the first enslaved Africans.
The premise of the groundbreaking initiative unveiled in the pages of the Sunday magazine is that the arrival of these captured Africans was the defining moment of American history.
In August of 1619, a ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived at a port in Virginia.
On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to truthfully tell the story of black Americans — and of America itself. https://t.co/iLrohS3Szi#1619project
— NYT Magazine (@NYTmag) August 14, 2019
Their bondage, enforced servitude, and struggle for equality became the leitmotif of our national narrative. The contributions of black Americans, the series posits, is the cornerstone on which the nation’s rich cultural legacy was built.
Needless to say, conservatives — many of whom can probably safely be considered Euro-centrists — simply weren’t having it.
They revolted loudly against the notion that 1619, and not 1776, would be viewed as the seminal date in American history. And they seemed particularly nonplussed at the idea that African Americans, and not white Americans, were being put forward as the key contributors to the nation’s rich cultural heritage.
Conservative pundit Byron York, a political analyst with the Washington Examiner, said the entire project raised questions in his mind as to whether it even amounted to journalism.
Question raised by leaked New York Times transcript, plus rollout of 1619 project: Should the public still view the Times as a news outlet? Or as something else? https://t.co/28AbrrPgnt
— Byron York (@ByronYork) August 17, 2019
More denunciations of the project emanated from the Twitter account of Newt Gingrich, the conservative former House Speaker, who called the entire project “propaganda.”
The NY Times 1619 Project should make its slogan “All the Propaganda we want to brainwash you with”.it is a repudiation of the original NY Times motto.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) August 18, 2019
The former history professor and onetime Georgia lawmaker took the trouble to contradict New York Times columnist Mara Gay’s tweet celebrating the massive effort that drew in journalists from throughout the Times newsroom and outside contributors as well.
Today is the day to read The New York Times in print, as we observe the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia-the moment America began. https://t.co/quOnt2HaBW #The1619Project pic.twitter.com/PMZuLU0Cor
— Mara Gay (@MaraGay) August 18, 2019
Mara Gay (@MaraGay) Tweeted:
In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”
This is simply a LIE.Pravda was never more dishonest than this effort to write a “left history”
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) August 18, 2019
Twitter had an answer, however, for Gingrich.
Peter Shulman, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve, wrote that the former House Speaker is not exactly agnostic on the subject of the African slave trade.
“You wrote a dissertation about colonialism in the Belgian Congo while never going there once and only discussed the perspective of the white colonizers,” Shulman chided Gingrich in a tweet.
You wrote a dissertation about colonialism in the Belgian Congo while never going there once and only discussed the perspective of the white colonizers. https://t.co/edJg5UAEWQ
— Peter A. Shulman 📚 (@pashulman) August 18, 2019
More angry denunciations of the Times came Sunday from the Twitter account of President Donald Trump, who railed against a “Racism Witch Hunt” by the newspaper, a possible reference to remarks made during a town hall held by New York Times editor-in-chief Dean Baquet in which he told the staff that the daily would explore ways to thoughtfully examine issues of race in the coming months.
“How do we write about race in a thoughtful way, something we haven’t done in a large way in a long time? That, to me, is the vision for coverage. You all are going to have to help us shape that vision. But I think that’s what we’re going to have to do for the rest of the next two years,” Baquet said, according to a leaked transcript of his remarks obtained by Slate.
…..”Journalism” has reached a new low in the history of our Country. It is nothing more than an evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party. The reporting is so false, biased and evil that it has now become a very sick joke…But the public is aware! #CROOKEDJOURNALISM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2019
The gathering of Times staff was convened amid handwringing in the newsroom over a botched New York Times headline in the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio which read “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.”
That characterization of the tenor of the president’s remarks drew howls of protest and disbelief from much of the rest of the media establishment.
But one conservative commentator, never Trumper, and journalist David Frum, drew a thruline between the controversy over Trump’s remarks in the wake of the shooting massacres and the Times’ Sunday magnum opus.
Frum clapped back on Twitter that the president seemed to resent the spotlight being directed other than on him.
Good morning America. I see many of you today talking about events tracing back 400 years. Stop that once! Return to talking about ME https://t.co/IsAzFQLHJL
— David Frum (@davidfrum) August 18, 2019
“Good morning America,” he mocked the president on Twitter. “I see many of you today talking about events tracing back 400 years. Stop that once! Return to talking about ME.”