CBS This Morning journalists butchered the facts on Wednesday as they spun the withholding of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones into a GOP plot. Reporter Nikki Battiste suggested Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project is only being “criticized by Republicans,” ignoring the fact that Pulitzer-Prize-winning historians (who are not conservative) have also done so.
CBS covered the fallout of the University of North Carolina belatedly offering The New York Times journalist tenure, only to have Hannah-Jones reject it and go to Howard University. According to Battiste, “The  Project has long been criticized by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump.”
The CBS journalist then spun a conspiracy theory: “There are 13 members of UNC’s board of trustees who voted on Hannah-Jones’ tenure. Four of them are appointed by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate.”
It’s simply false to imply that only Republicans have a problem with the gross historical errors in the 1619 Project. As I noted on Tuesday, “Distinguished historians, including Pulitzer Prize-winners, hammered the errors. In a 2019 letter to The New York Times, Victoria Bynum, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, Sean Wilentz, and Gordon S. Wood” complained about the “factual errors,” “closed process” and called it incompatible with “honest journalism.”
Wilentz, for instance, was a devoted supporter of Hillary Clinton. He’s hardly a “Republican.”
On CBS, Battiste featured UNC Dean Susan King (who defended Hannah-Jones from the start), cheering, “She is not just a great journalist, she’s a once in a generation journalist.” Battiste closed the segment by lecturing, “And for sure the students at Howard University are lucky they will have her as a teacher.”
On Wednesday, no dissent or discussion of the historical distortions was allowed on CBS. On Tuesday, This Morning co-host Gayle King gushed to Hannah-Jones in an interview:
Can we say you have a 20 year career with impeccable credentials? Let’s talk about the 1619 Project. Because The New York Times did issue a clarification, not a correction. They said they have stood by you. There was a clarification. What was the clarification and what is your response to the criticism?”
A transcript of the segment is below. Click “expand” to read more.
CBS This Morning
8:16:57 to 8:22:32
TONY DOKOUPIL: Capitol Hill. Some faculty there at UNC-Chapel Hill are criticizing their own university after journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced exclusively right here on CBS This Morning that she is declining a tenured position there. She told Gayle yesterday she accepted a position instead at Howard University after weeks of controversy. All of it comes after the UNC board of trustees delayed its decision to grant her tenure. Some faculty at UNC’s journalism school wrote a public letter yesterday saying the way the university treated her was racist. We spoke to a board member about all of this, and Nikki Battiste has more. Nikki, good morning to you.
NIKKI BATTISTE: Good morning, everyone. In that public letter, faculty members also said UNC’s treatment of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was “humiliating, inappropriate, and unjust.” After Hannah-jones’ announcement, we looked at the fallout for UNC.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Very difficult decision. Not a decision I wanted to make.
BATTISTE: A difficult decision that UNC Dean Susan King says she also wishes Nikole Hannah-Jones didn’t have to make. The head of Chapel Hill’s journalism school was one of Hannah-Jones’ fiercest advocates.
UNC DEAN SUSAN KING: Nikole was going to be, I felt, perhaps my most important legacy.
BATTISTE: Last year, Hannah-Jones was appointed as the Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. The controversy began after it became public that the position was offered with a five-year contract instead of tenure.
HANNAH-JONES: This was a position that since the 1980s came with tenure. The Knight chairs are designed for professional journalists who have been working in the field to come into academia. Every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with tenure. I —
GAYLE KING: It had never been denied, no one had been denied tenure before?
BATTISTE: After a public outcry and student protests, the board of trustees took up a vote last week offering Hannah-Jones their alumnae tenure, but she ultimately decided not to accept it.
GAYLE KING: Why do you suppose they didn’t right away offer you tenure? What do you think the reason is?
HANNAH-JONES: I mean, what has been reported is that there was a great deal of political interference by conservatives who don’t like the work that I’ve done, particularly the 1619 Project.
BATTISTE: Hannah Jones’s 1619 Project aimed to re-examine American slavery and its impact on society policies, and the legal system. It earned her journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize. Do you think this had anything to do with Ms. Hannah-jones’ 1619 project?
SUSAN KING: I’m sure it had some impact.
BATTISTE: The project has long been criticized by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth.
BATTISTE: There are 13 members of UNC’s board of trustees who voted on Hannah-Jones’ tenure. Four of them are appointed by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. CBS News spoke to board of trustees member Ralph Meekins who says he thinks it was poor communication, not politics that was to blame for Hannah-Jones not initially being offered tenure. He said the chair of the committee reviewing Hannah-Jones’ tenure application had questions back in January which was typical in the review process. When he says they didn’t hear back regarding those questions, the process stalled.
Meekins also says he doesn’t think it was about the content or truthfulness of the 1619 project which he called impactful work, adding he admires Hannah-Jones and wishes she was coming to UNC. Hannah-Jones denies that anyone at UNC requested additional information for her tenure application. Jenai Nelson with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is Hannah-jones’ legal counsel. If Ms. Hannah-Jones went forward with a lawsuit, what would the grounds of the lawsuit be?
JANAI NELSON (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund): There are several, but they first amendment and also race discrimination, gender discrimination, and the intersection of both. There’s also state law in North Carolina that prohibits employment discrimination and political influence on state decisions.
GERG UKIANF (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President and CEO): Academic freedom on campus has been in trouble for quite some time.
BATTISTE: Greg Lukianoff is president and CEO of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education. His organization was one of the first to criticize Hannah-Jones not getting tenure.
LUKIANOFF: My hope is what will come out of this case is a greater awareness of the threat to academic freedom.
BATTISTE: As for Dean King, she says she’s ready to help UNC journalism students heal while using Hannah-jones as an example of what they can achieve.
KING: She is not just a great journalist, she’s a once in a generation journalist.
BATTISTE: Hannah-Jones told us the provost and chancellor never reached out during the process. In a statement the chancellor said he is disappointed that she will not be coming to Chapel Hill and that he is committed to making UNC a more welcoming place. You can’t help but wonder that journalism students for years to come are probably going to be learning about this situation.
JERICKA DUNCAN: Oh, they absolutely will. I think her point in the letter is that this isn’t just her fighting for herself but on behalf of the many people whose opportunities are stifled because there are certain people that don’t want certain people in these institutions.
TONY DOKOUPIL: Yeah.
BATTISTE: And for sure the students at Howard University are lucky they will have her as a teacher.