*The New York Times* talks to Trump evangelicals about the election

Here are a few bits from yesterday’s piece by Elisabeth Dias and Ruth Graham:

After calling the Latino vote “the quintessential swing vote,” court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez described Trump’s “policies” as “absolutely remarkable.”

Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said that forty years ago a vote for Trump was unimaginable to evangelicals, but today “they feel the wind facing them…with a clear sense that the culture is becoming reordered in a hostile and increasingly secular manner. Evangelicals are voting with the same values, but with a different set of priorities.” I beg to differ. The priorities of white evangelicals on the Christian Right have not changed much in forty years.

Franklin Graham reminded Dias and Graham that the election was not yet “official.” He added: “America is in such a moral decline…We are becoming a much more violent country. I am afraid for our country.”

Robert Jeffress took out billboards throughout Dallas to advertise his upcoming sermon on Biden. He added: A Joe Biden win cannot erase all the positive accomplishments that can be attributed to President Trump.”

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition is now focused on the Georgia Senate run-offs on January 5, 2021.

Read the entire piece here.

“Out of Work in America”

The New York Times teamed-up with local news agencies in Buffalo, New York; Victoria, Texas; Frenchtown, Montana; Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Sarasota, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Santa Ana, California; August, Georgia; Las Vegas, Nevada, and Owensburg, Kentucky to chronicle the economic devastation COVID-19 is bringing to ordinary Americans. It’s a powerful piece of reporting.

Here is the story from my neck of the woods:

Anthony Lucier, 34, lives alone in Carlisle, Pa. He was laid off from his job as an inventory coordinator at a local Toyota dealership in June after six years. We first spoke with Mr. Lucier in July.

I worked really hard for those guys for six years. I gave them my all. I was given the old-fashioned “You stay, you put your time in, you work hard, you move up.” Then Covid happened. I was furloughed for a few weeks in March, and then we qualified for a loan. Then they brought us all back to work even though we were in the red phase of the pandemic. Near the end of that loan, I was told my position with the company was going to be eliminated. There were other positions, and I applied for all of them, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t given an opportunity to move to a different area of the business.

When I was furloughed, I was fine. It wasn’t until I was laid off where I was like, “OK, I can’t just mope around, I gotta go do something.” So I started throwing out applications everywhere. I figured, “OK, something’s bound to happen. I’m bound to get a call back.” Second week goes by: “Oh, all right.” After about the third week, that’s when I started to get concerned because I’ve never really needed a job before. That was weird. I was shocked, I was afraid and I was out of my comfort zone. The only callback I received was from a fine wine and spirits store in York County. They hired me. I’m hoping that with time it’ll grow into something that’s more full time, and it’ll turn out to be something that I can actually pay my bills and my rent on.

I found myself on unemployment, and that was weird. And I’m still technically on unemployment to make up for any pay that I’m not receiving compared to what I used to receive. I’m filling out web pages full of information and hopefully getting some income from the government. I think it’s great, but it is weird. I didn’t think at any point in my life that I would be here, especially in my mid-30s.

This is hypothetical, but let’s say Gov. Tom Wolf hits the newsstand tomorrow and says, “Hey, sorry. The bank’s tapped. We’re not going to be able to offer you any more unemployment.” If I get laid off again, that’s probably it for me. At that point, I’m not going to be able to pay my rent, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills. I won’t be able to make my car payment. At that point, I’m either going to be out on the street or maybe I can move back in with my parents, which is not something a guy in his 30s is looking forward to.

Unemployment is nice because it’s a safety net. I knew I wouldn’t starve. But I feel like the quicker you can get off of it the better, especially right now, when there are millions of other people who are also collecting unemployment. I want to make a move as quickly as possible and try to get my life back on track.

Read the entire piece here.

Editor of *The New York Times Magazines* addresses recent criticisms of the 1619 Project

You can find all of our posts on the 1619 Project here.

Here is Jake Silverstein, editor of The New York Times Magazine:

Most of the questions around our display language have centered on variations on a single phrase. In some cases, we referred to 1619 as the nation’s “birth year,” in others as our “birth date,” in others as “a foundational date,” in others as our “point of origin.” In one instance of digital display copy, we referred to 1619 as our “true founding.” It is this use of this last phrase, and its subsequent deletion, that was the subject of an article in the online magazine Quillette and then, more recently, that figured prominently in a column by my colleague Bret Stephens, a columnist on The Times’s Opinion page.

A few notes on this phrase, “true founding”: It was written by a digital editor and approved by me. (Hannah-Jones, as a staff writer at the magazine is not typically involved in matters of digital display language.) It does not appear in the print edition of The 1619 Project. This phrase was introduced when the project went online, in August 2019, appearing in an un-bylined 55-word passage that lived in a small box on the project’s main web page, as well as on the individual story pages, which read as follows: “The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times. 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.”

Given the space constraints, “true founding” was a way to summarize the “birth” metaphor that appeared here and there throughout the print edition — such as in a sentence in my editor’s note that read: “The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” It also carried some of the meaning of a sentence from Hannah-Jones’s essay in which she says that Black Americans, “as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true ‘founding fathers.’” (This summer, President Obama made a similar comparison in his eulogy for the civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, calling him a “founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”)

Nevertheless, in the months after the package went online, we began to wonder if we’d gotten it quite right. In the longer phrase from the editor’s note (“by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year”), the sense that this was a metaphor — a whole new perspective on American history that this collection of essays would give you — was explicit. The online language risked being read literally. And indeed, some readers pointed out that this word choice implied that the specific historical meaning of what took place during the founding period should be replaced by the specific historical meaning of what took place in 1619.

So in December, we edited this digital display text to more closely mirror what appeared in the print magazine. We did not see this as a significant alteration, let alone concession, in how we presented the project. Within the project’s essays, the argument about 1619’s being the nation’s symbolic point of origin remained.

Read the entire piece here.

A short history of the 1619 Project

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Ellison chronicles the ways The New York Times‘s 1619 Project has influenced American politics in 2020. Here is a taste:

Sean Wilentz remembers the Sunday morning in August when he walked down his driveway to pick up his Times. The Princeton historian was intrigued to see an issue of the magazine devoted to slavery; his most recent book, “No Property in Man,” explored the antislavery instincts of the nation’s founders. But then he started reading Hannah-Jones’s essay.

“I threw the thing across the room, I was so astounded,” he recalled recently, “because I ran across a paragraph on the American Revolution, and it was just factually wrong.”

Long before “1619” was vibrating on the lips of President Trump and leading GOP lawmakers, objections were brewing among serious liberal academics. Hannah-Jones’s 10,000-word essay opened with her father’s roots in a Mississippi sharecropping family before blossoming into a panoramic take on the nation’s history. In the passage that so enraged Wilentz, she asserted that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” at a time when “Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution.”

This, Wilentz argues, is patently false: Other than a few lonely voices, England remained committed to the slave trade in 1776. The abolitionist movement didn’t take hold in London for more than a decade — and then it was inspired by anti-slavery opinions emerging from America.

Wilentz was impressed by some of the 1619 Project’s essays, but in November, he critiqued Hannah-Jones’s piece in a public speech. And he contacted other prominent academics, whose complaints about the project were chronicled by the World Socialist Web Site. Eventually, four agreed to join Wilentz in writing a letter to the Times, criticizing the project’s “displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

It didn’t go over so well.

“We perceived it right away to be an attack on the project,” said Silverstein. He questioned why they didn’t just contact him or Hannah-Jones directly to offer thoughts on how to “strengthen this historical analysis” as he said other readers had.

Wilentz, in turn, was stunned by Silverstein’s response letter, which published alongside the scholars’ in December and was longer than their own — a major tell, in his view, that the Times knew it had gotten something very wrong even while it appeared to dismiss the complaint and avoided addressing many of its points. “Holy smokes,” he thought. “This is war!”

Wilentz, who is White, had not succeeded in getting any Black historians to sign on to his letter. But some shared his concerns. Leslie Harris, a history professor at Northwestern who has written extensively about colonial slavery, was contacted in 2019 by a Times fact-checker asking if preserving slavery was a cause of the Revolutionary War. “Immediately, I was like, no, no, that doesn’t sound right,” Harris recalled. She thought the issue was settled — until she was a guest on a radio show with Hannah-Jones and heard the journalist assert that the colonists launched the revolution to preserve slavery. Taken aback, she was unready to argue but retreated to her car nearly in tears: A fan of the 1619 Project’s mission, she knew the claim could be consequential. “Given how high-profile this was, if this was really wrong, it was —” she paused, punctuating each word. “Really. Going. To. Be. Wrong.”

Read the entire piece here. Read all our posts on the 1619 Project here.

Is the 1619 Project backing-off some of its more problematic claims about the American founding?

It sure seems that way.

Here is Tom Mackaman and David North at World Socialist Web Site:

The New York Times, without announcement or explanation, has abandoned the central claim of the 1619 Project: that 1619, the year the first slaves were brought to Colonial Virginia—and not 1776—was the “true founding” of the United States.

The initial introduction to the Project, when it was rolled out in August 2019, stated that

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 the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

The revised text now reads:

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.

A similar change was made from the print version of the 1619 Project, which has been sent out to millions of school children in all 50 states. The original version read:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.

The website version has deleted the key claim. It now reads:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.

It is not entirely clear when the Times deleted its “true founding” claim, but an examination of old cached versions of the 1619 Project text indicates that it probably took place on December 18, 2019.

These deletions are not mere wording changes. The “true founding” claim was the core element of the Project’s assertion that all of American history is rooted in and defined by white racial hatred of blacks. According to this narrative, trumpeted by Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, the American Revolution was a preemptive racial counterrevolution waged by white people in North America to defend slavery against British plans to abolish it. The fact that there is no historical evidence to support this claim did not deter the Times and Hannah-Jones from declaring that the historical identification of 1776 with the creation of a new nation is a myth, as is the claim that the Civil War was a progressive struggle aimed at the destruction of slavery. According to the New York Times and Hannah-Jones, the fight against slavery and all forms of oppression were struggles that black Americans always waged alone.

Read the rest here. For out other 1619 Project posts click here.

Religion journalist Ruth Graham joins *The New York Times*

Rith Graham

Ruth Graham

Big news on the religion journalism front. Here is the announcement:

 

Given National’s mission to understand the country in all its complexity, our coverage of religion in America could not be more important. That is why we are thrilled to announce that Ruth Graham is joining us as a national correspondent covering religion, faith and values.

Since 2018, Ruth has been a staff writer at Slate, where she has written with enormous grace and wit about the intersection of religion, politics and culture. Ruth’s work is compulsively readable and caught our eye for its sheer range in tone, subject matter and form.

She has written with sensitivity about what it’s like to be Black at Liberty University. She can bring a light touch, introducing readers to the jetsetting, Jesus-quoting Christian influencers of Instagram. She can break news, like when she traveled to rural Kansas last year to conduct the first interview with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick after he was publicly accused of sexual abuse. (If you need a brief escape from your pandemic quarters, you should stop what you’re doing and read her take on which fantasy celebrity house is best for a quarantine.)

On top of all that, she also reported and hosted the four-part narrative podcast “Standoff,” a re-examination of the 1992 federal siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.

Born and raised in Wheaton, outside Chicago, Ruth has a B.A. in political science from Wheaton College. Her career in journalism started at The New York Sun, where she eventually became features editor. Her religion reporting as a freelance journalist appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Politico magazine, Al Jazeera America and many others. She has been a contributing writer to The Boston Globe’s Ideas section and to TheAtlantic.com.

Ruth lives with her family in a small town in New Hampshire, and plans on moving next year to Dallas for The Times, which will put her in an ideal spot to explore religion in America.

The combination of Ruth and Elizabeth Dias will create a powerhouse team for making sure The  Times covers religion and morality with depth and sophistication. We can’t wait for Ruth to start next month.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming her.

Congratulations Ruth Graham!

Liberty University files $10 million lawsuit against *The New York Times*

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

This is what evangelical Christian institutions do these days.

Here is WSLS News:

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. announced that his school has filed a lawsuit against The New York Times.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday morning, is for $10 million, as well as $350,000 in punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs.

The net proceeds awarded through this lawsuit will be contributed by Liberty University to nonprofit organizations dedicated to supporting people and businesses recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and related economic lockdowns, according to Liberty.

Read the entire piece here.

In other Falwell Jr. news, the Liberty University president is now defending Trump on the alt-Right Breitbart News radio show.

He also told Breitbart that Liberty University will open in the Fall with no social distancing or masks.

What happened to *The New York Times*?

Times

Last week the editorial page editor of The New York Times resigned after he was criticized for publishing an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton that called for the use of federal troops to quell violence in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Over at Politico, historian David Greenberg puts this story in historical perspective. Here is a taste of his piece “The New York Times Used to Be a Model of Diverse Opinion. What Happened?“:

All might be surprised to know how uncannily these debates echo those of 50 years ago, during a period of equal or greater turmoil. In 1969, the Wall Street Journal reported on a 21-year-old Raleigh News and Observer reporter, Kerry Gruson, who declared objectivity a “myth” and insisted on wearing a black armband while reporting on the “Moratorium,” a nationwide day of protest against the Vietnam War. Five hundred miles to the north, her father, Sydney Gruson, a muckety-muck at the New York Times forbade some 300 of his employees from using the paper’s auditorium for an antiwar teach-in, declaring, “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel strongly about the purity of the news columns.” (The Journal piece is cited in the scholar Michael Schudson’s classic history of objectivity in journalism, Discovering the News).

Similar clashes in this period took place at other publications. They revolved around civil rights, gender equality and diversity in the newsroom. All generally pitted older, stodgy traditionalists (mostly white and male) against more diverse younger journalists seeking to test the boundaries of how much viewpoint and even activism they could get into print.

In our dismal times, it may be encouraging to note that a détente, of sorts, was reached—suggesting there may be a satisfactory way forward as newspapers face a similar crisis today.

One reason quality journalism survived after the 1960s is that institutions like the New York Times bent so as not to break. Under pressure to make room for more subjectivity and analysis, they innovated, permitting in their publications a greater range of topics and writers, more personal voice, more political opinion and more in-depth exposés—but each in its proper place. These developments allowed journalism to become more interesting, useful and appealing to audiences without sacrificing its bedrock principles.

Read the entire piece here.

Don’t Make Too Much About the Slip in White Evangelical Support for Trump

Trump and Bible

I have a now talked with a few media outlets about this. They are very eager to discuss a recent New York Times article titled “Trump’s Approval Slips Where He Can’t Afford to Lost It: Among Evangelicals.” Here is Jeremy Peters:

Unnerved by his slipping poll numbers and his failure to take command of the moral and public health crises straining the country, religious conservatives have expressed concern in recent weeks to the White House and the Trump campaign about the president’s political standing.

Their rising discomfort spilled out into the open this week when the founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, scolded the president for taking such a belligerent tone as the country erupted in sorrow and anger over the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.

Read the entire piece here.

Three quick thoughts on this:

  1. As I wrote last week, Pat Robertson does not have the influence over white evangelicals in the way he did in the 1980s and 1990s. His criticism of Trump’s speech and photo-op will not move the needle. I have no doubt that Robertson will vote for Trump in November. Moreover, many white evangelicals who are not happy with the way Trump has handled the coronavirus or the Floyd protests will still vote for him in November.
  2. Remember, white evangelicals think some moral issues are more important than others. Abortion and “religious liberty” (as white evangelicals understand it) will always trump racism and presidential leadership when it comes to electing a president. Even a moderate Democratic like Joe Biden is a threat.
  3. Having said that, even a small slip in evangelical support for Trump in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida could cost him the election.

*The New York Times* Obituary for Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias speaks at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Glad to contribute a couple of comments to this. I know some of my evangelical friends will be impressed that I am quoted before Tim Tebow. 🙂

Here is Steven Kurutz:

Ravi Zacharias, an evangelist and author who became an important voice for Christians by making a rational argument for the existence of God and vigorously defending the faith against atheists, relativists, Buddhists and other challengers, died on May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.

Mr. Zacharias suffered from cancer, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries said.

Unlike other influential evangelists such as Billy Graham, Mr. Zacharias did not have an outsize public persona, court politicians or host revivals in stadiums around the world. Rather, he practiced an intellectual form of Christian theology called apologetics that dates back to the Apostle Paul.

Mr. Zacharias believed the way to counter an increasingly secular culture was to make a logical case for theism, and to explain why Christianity above all other religions is best equipped to answer life’s fundamental, existential questions. His ministry’s motto is: “Helping the thinker believe. Helping the believer think.”

Mr. Zacharias laid out his arguments in more than two- dozen books, including “Can Man Live Without God?” (1994) and “Why Jesus?” (2007), through his radio program, “Let My People Think” and in speaking appearances around the world.

He rose to prominence in 1983, when Mr. Graham invited him to speak at a conference for evangelists in Amsterdam. His non-Western background (he was born in India) set Mr. Zacharias apart from American evangelical preachers, and gave him a certain authority as someone exposed to religious pluralism.

“Ravi was a kind of philosopher for the church,” said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College, a private Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “His primary audience was conservative evangelicals with college degrees who wanted to give some kind of rational, empirical defense of their faith in the workplace, at the water cooler, with the people they sat next to on the plane.”

High-profile followers include Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and professional baseball player. He formed a friendship with Mr. Zacharias, and in early May, as the preacher battled cancer, posted a tribute on Instagram, saying, “I think it’s really important in life to have heroes, and especially in the faith, and one of my heroes of the faith” is Mr. Zacharias.

Read the rest here.

Comparing Trump and the Court Evangelicals on Twitter During the Last 72 Hours

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

Tweets and retweets included:

(A lot of our readers are not on Twitter. A “retweet” is a re-posting of a tweet that is then shared with all of retweeter’s followers. When Trump retweets, it is always an endorsement of the content of the original tweet).

And now here are the recent tweets and retweets over the last 48 hours from Trump’s leading evangelical supporters:

It looks like Reed is suddenly interested in politics making racist comments:

Reed has spent his entire life watching polls:

And, of course, Eric Metaxas, senior fellow at the Liberty University Falkirk Center:

metaxas Blackface

World Socialist Website Responds to Announcement of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer

1619

Some of you remember Kings College history professor Thomas Mackaman’s visit to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. (Listen to Episode 63 here). Mackaman, a socialist, is a strong critic of The New York Times‘s 1619 Project.

Here is a taste his latest (with David North), “Hannah-Jones receives Pulitzer Prize for personal commentary, not historical writing“:

The Pulitzer went only to Hannah-Jones, and not to the Times or the 1619 Project, which was released on August 13, 2019, amidst an unprecedented publicity blitz, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slaves in colonial Virginia. The initial glossy magazine was over 100 pages long and included ten essays, a photo essay, and poems and fiction by 16 more writers. It has been followed by podcasts, a lecture tour, school lesson plans, and even a commercial run during the Academy Awards. The 1619 Project was a massive institutional enterprise. But what the New York Times wound up with was nothing more than an individual award for Commentary. This is certainly the most expensive consolation prize in the history of the Pulitzers.

In a departure for the Commentary Award, Hannah-Jones won only for her single essay titled, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” One cannot help but suspect that the Times brought considerable pressure to bear to eke out this minimal recognition of the 1619 Project’s existence. Hannah-Jones beat out finalists considered for a whole year’s work. Her competitors were Sally Jenkins, a sturdy sports writer for the Washington Post, and Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, for his series of columns on homelessness in America’s second-largest city.

The Pulitzer board cited Hannah-Jones for her “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay” (emphasis added). The word choice is revealing and damning. The Board did not evaluate her essay, which defined the content of the 1619 Project, as rising to the level of a history. This is not an insignificant judgment. In the realm of scholarly work, the profound difference between the writing of a historical work and the spinning out of opinions is of a fundamental character. As Hegel, among the greatest of all philosophers of history, once wrote: “What can be more useless than to learn a string of bald opinions, and what more unimportant?” While a reporter’s “personal” thoughts about history may prompt a “public conversation,” as the Pulitzer citation acknowledges, they do not provide the basis for the overturning of documented history, much less a new curriculum for the schools.

The “public conversation” to which the Pulitzer citation refers was set into motion by the World Socialist Web Site, which published in the first week of September 2019 a comprehensive rebuttal of the 1619 Project. The WSWS followed this with a series of interviews with leading historians that subjected the Times’ unprecedented and extravagant foray into history to a withering critique: Victoria BynumJames McPhersonJames OakesGordon WoodAdolph Reed, Jr.Dolores JaniewskiRichard Carwardine and Clayborne Carson.

The central argument advanced in the essays and interviews was that the 1619 Project was a travesty of history. The WSWS’ exposure of the 1619 Project’s shoddy research, numerous factual errors and outright falsifications attracted a huge audience and was the subject of discussion in numerous publications.

Read the entire piece here.

Allen Guelzo Criticizes the 1619 Project

1619

The New York Times 1619 Project just received a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Listen to Allen Guelzo’s critique of the project in an interview with the Heritage Foundation. If you like the 1619 Project, you may want to sit down for this one:

Much of Guelzo’s criticism of the 1619 Project is legitimate. As I listened to him, it seems like his primary beef is less with Nikole Hannah-Jones and the editors of The New York Times (although he has some pretty harsh things to say about journalists) and more with some of the scholarship on which her project is based.

It is also worth noting that the 1619 Project did not win a Pulitzer for “History” or “Non-Fiction.” It won for commentary.  Readers can decide whether or not that matters.

Here is the link to the essay on Lincoln that Guelzo references in this interview.

In a Late-Night Voicemail, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Tells a *New York Times* Reporter That She is “in some serious trouble”

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

Jerry Falwell Jr. wants The New York Times punished for what he believes to be an inaccurate story about Liberty University’s response to the coronavirus. He even left a Times reporter an ominous and threatening message on her voicemail.  The message said, “you’re in some serious trouble.” (Why did Falwell wait until almost midnight to make this call? Why not call during the day when he could tell the reporter directly?  This seems cowardly to me).

The New York Times defends its coverage.  Here is a taste of Elizabeth Williamson’s piece, “Falwell Focuses on Criticis as Coronavirus Cases Near His University Grow“:

…a Liberty student on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in Virginia, saying that Liberty and Mr. Falwell had “placed students at severe physical risk and refused to refund thousands of dollars in fees owed to them for the Spring 2020 semester,” according to a statement from the law firm filing the suit.

The furor in Lynchburg centers on Mr. Falwell’s decision to open the campus to all students and staff at a time when most American universities were closing for fear of spreading the disease. For weeks before that decision, Mr. Falwell had derided other universities’ coronavirus responses as overreactions driven by a desire to harm President Trump.

“We think it’s irresponsible for so many universities to just say ‘closed, you can’t come back,’ push the problem off on other communities and sit there in their ivory towers,” he told a conservative radio host.

Since the media spotlight trained on Liberty’s decisions, Mr. Falwell, a close ally of Mr. Trump, has protested that his policies were no different than many other university administrators, and that he has been singled out for unfair criticism by liberal journalists bent on his destruction.

“The facts are that Liberty University’s response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic is indistinguishable from that of many, if not most, universities, and, more importantly, it had not experienced a single on-campus student or employee testing positive for Covid-19,” he said this week in a statement that ignored illnesses among off-campus members of the Liberty community.

To his supporters, he has been less temperate. The media, he said in a radio interview with John Fredericks, who identified himself as a Trump campaign operative, “just want power, they’re authoritarian, they’re like nothing I’ve seen since, if you go back in history, to Nazi Germany. That’s what they remind me of.”

And he has spared no effort to defend his actions since articles on Liberty’s reopening ran in ProPublica and The New York Times. He pursued arrest warrants for misdemeanor trespassing against two journalists, Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for The Times. He enlisted a New York law firm to threaten legal action against The Times and, he has said, other outlets as well.

He called a Times reporter shortly before midnight, leaving a voice mail message that said, “you’re in some serious trouble.” He accused the journalists of putting his students at risk because they traveled from New York City. (They did not.)

Read the entire piece here.

Falwell Jr. to Reporters: Get Off My Lawn!

Liberty Campus

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, wants two journalists arrested for trespassing on campus property.  Here is a taste of Caitlin Oprysko’s piece at Politico:

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Wednesday that arrest warrants had been issued for journalists from The New York Times and ProPublica after both outlets published articles critical of his decision to partially reopen Liberty’s campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Photocopies of the two warrants published on the website of Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host, charge that Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for the Times, and Alec MacGillis, a ProPublica reporter, committed misdemeanor trespassing on the Lynchburg, Va., campus of the college while working on their articles.

Falwell and Liberty, one of the most high-profile evangelical schools in the country, have come under fire for welcoming students back to campus after the school’s spring break despite the pandemic, while nearly every other college in the country has ordered students off campus.

In an interview on Starnes’ show, Falwell ripped a New York Times report that nearly a dozen students were experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Times cited “the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service,” who said three students so far had been tested for coronavirus, with at least one student, who lives off campus, testing positive.

Read the rest here.

Where is Trump’s Soul?

Miami Trump

Last week I wondered who was caring for Donald Trump’s soul in this time of crisis.  Several of you asked me if he had one.  For those who asked me this question, I give you Frank Bruni’s recent column, “Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul?”  Here is a taste:

Do you remember President George W. Bush’s remarks at Ground Zero in Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? I can still hear him speaking of national grief and national pride. This was before all the awful judgment calls and fatal mistakes, and it doesn’t excuse them. But it mattered, because it reassured us that our country’s leader was navigating some of the same emotional currents that we were.

Do you remember President Barack Obama’s news conference after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 people, including 20 children, dead? I do. Freshest in my memory is how he fought back tears. He was hurting. He cared. And while we couldn’t bank on new laws to prevent the next massacre, we could at least hold on to that.

One more question: Do you remember the moment when President Trump’s bearing and words made clear that he grasped not only the magnitude of this rapidly metastasizing pandemic but also our terror in the face of it?

It passed me by, maybe because it never happened.

In Trump’s predecessors, for all their imperfections, I could sense the beat of a heart and see the glimmer of a soul. In him I can’t, and that fills me with a sorrow and a rage that I quite frankly don’t know what to do with.

Americans are dying by the thousands, and he gloats about what a huge, rapt television audience he has. They’re confronting financial ruin and not sure how they’ll continue to pay for food and shelter, and he reprimands governors for not treating him with adequate adulation.

He’s not rising to the challenge before him, not even a millimeter. He’s shriveling into nothingness.

Read the rest here.

Falwell Jr. Says *The New York Times* Story on Coronavirus at Liberty University is “False”

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Get up to speed here.

Here is Falwell’s statement as it appears on the website of WSET News–Channel 13 in Lynchburg:

The New York Times ambushed Liberty University to publish a false and misleading story claiming that, “students started getting sick” after the University received students back after spring break. The Times attributed the reporter’s conclusion about the scope of the COVID-19 symptoms being about a dozen students to a local doctor who has consulted with LU. The truth is a far different story. Both the numbers and the sequencing are wrong.

At about 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, a New York Times reporter emailed university spokesperson with a list of 12 questions to be answered for a story that was going to run in the paper Monday. About 20 minutes later, she wrote to say that the story would go online in a few hours. Unable to gather specific answers to all the questions, President Falwell called the reporter and gave her an interview. The story was posted at 3:00 pm and contained several errors.

The University promptly provided the reporter detailed numbers on the student cases and requested corrections. No correction has been forthcoming so this statement is being issued.

Liberty disputes the number of students with symptoms that the Times reported. Liberty is not aware of any students in its residence halls testing positive for COVID-19 or, in fact, being tested at all, much less any residence hall students having sufficient symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested.

Liberty can confirm that, following the US Surgeon General’s recommendations concerning persons who had been in the New York City metropolitan area, Liberty University asked four students who had recently been in that area and who were living in campus residence hall rooms to self-quarantine for the recommended period in single rooms at Liberty’s otherwise unoccupied housing annex (a former hotel a few miles from campus). Two did and two opted to return to their permanent residence, instead. There were three students in close contact with these individuals and they were also asked to self-quarantine in separate rooms in the annex. They did.

Liberty is providing meals and attending to their needs there. This was precautionary and not based on any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 among the eight. The health professionals did not recommend these asymptomatic students be tested and they were not.

Liberty is also aware of one off-campus student who returned from an out-of-state county with a high number of cases who was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and advised to self-isolate pending the results. He elected to return to his permanent residence instead.

Another off-campus student came in for COVID-19 testing during spring break and her results came back negative.

Liberty is also aware of a recently graduated student who is taking online classes and who lives off campus with his family. He remained in Lynchburg during spring break who was advised to self-isolate based on his reported symptoms while his test results were being processed. Despite his status as a graduate, he came through the campus clinic to see the doctors he had been seeing while a student.

Liberty University has a protocol in place for informing members of the University community as necessary in the event we confirm a student or employee on our campus tests positive for COVID-19. No such notification stands in place as of yet.

So despite the Times’ sensational headline and story lead, Liberty is only aware of three off campus student who were sufficiently symptomatic to qualify for COVID-19 testing, two of which did not leave Lynchburg for Spring Break and one of which tested negative during Spring Break.

The story also forwards a misleading narrative about how government officials were informed of Liberty University’s decision. The following statement was shared publicly on March 16 with advance copies to both the City of Lynchburg and the Governor’s office following Liberty’s decision to move most all classes to online delivery, thus allowing fewer students to need to return to Lynchburg from Spring Break to take classes, as had been the prior plan.

More coverage here.

Assessing Last Night’s Democratic Debate

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Over at The New York Times, an impressive group of commentators and intellectuals evaluate last night debate—perhaps the last–between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The group includes Gail Collins, Nicole Hemmer, Michelle Goldberg, Wajahat Ali, Peter Wehner, Jamelle Bouie, and Elizabeth Bouie.

Here is Hemmer on Biden’s performance:

The smartest move Biden made in the debate — other than committing to a female running mate — was tying revolution to disruption. At a moment when the world’s been turned upside down, he offered to flip it right side up, not shake it up more. His reassurances send a powerful general-election message — and why he won the debate.

Here is Elizabeth Bruenig on Sanders’s performance:

That’s odd about Sanders is that he’s simultaneously the ideas candidate — unlike Biden, he has a philosophical brief against the excesses of American individualism — and the practical, materially focused candidate, worrying over how low-wage workers will survive this crisis financially. That breadth of interests came through strongly in this debate, and the no-audience format suited him well.

Read the entire piece here.

Leslie Harris Weighs-In on the 1619 Project

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Leslie Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University, fact-checked The New York Times 1619 Project.  Here is what she said in a recent piece at Politico:

On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against with her fact-checker: that the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America.

Hannah-Jones and I were on Georgia Public Radio to discuss the path-breaking New York Times 1619 Project, a major feature about the impact of slavery on American history, which she had spearheaded. The Times had just published the special 1619 edition of its magazine, which took its name from the year 20 Africans arrived in the colony of Virginia—a group believed to be the first enslaved Africans to arrive in British North America.

Weeks before, I had received an email from a New York Times research editor. Because I’m an historian of African American life and slavery, in New York, specifically, and the pre-Civil War era more generally, she wanted me to verify some statements for the project. At one point, she sent me this assertion: “One critical reason that the colonists declared their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery in the colonies, which had produced tremendous wealth. At the time there were growing calls to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, which would have badly damaged the economies of colonies in both North and South.”

I vigorously disputed the claim. Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.

The editor followed up with several questions probing the nature of slavery in the Colonial era, such as whether enslaved people were allowed to read, could legally marry, could congregate in groups of more than four, and could own, will or inherit property—the answers to which vary widely depending on the era and the colony. I explained these histories as best I could—with references to specific examples—but never heard back from her about how the information would be used.

Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay. In addition, the paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619.

Both sets of inaccuracies worried me, but the Revolutionary War statement made me especially anxious. Overall, the 1619 Project is a much-needed corrective to the blindly celebratory histories that once dominated our understanding of the past—histories that wrongly suggested racism and slavery were not a central part of U.S. history. I was concerned that critics would use the overstated claim to discredit the entire undertaking. So far, that’s exactly what has happened.

Read the rest of her nuanced perspective here.

Click here for our collection of posts on the 1619 Project.