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Newspaper publisher warned UNC journalism school against hiring 1619 Project creator

Namesake of journalism school donated $25 million.

Updated: May 31, 2021 - 5:22pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

When the University of North Carolina declined to offer tenure to 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones for a journalism faculty position, academics assumed that the state's conservative establishment had politically interfered.

An apolitical journalism figure who pledged the journalism school $25 million likely played a larger role, according to emails obtained by North Carolina digital magazine The Assembly.

Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette among others, was bothered by UNC's interest in the crusading New York Times journalist because she rejects his vision for the journalism school. It should be "the champion of objective, impartial reporting and separating news and opinion," Hussman told dean Susan King, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Vice Chancellor for development David Routh.

He cited the criticisms of prominent historians, including Gordon Wood and James McPherson, about the accuracy of the 1619 Project's claims. Hussman was particularly bothered by Hannah-Jones' claim: "For the most part, black Americans fought back alone" in the post-World War II struggle for civil rights.

Hannah-Jones' conflation of objectivity with white perspectives will lead many to believe "she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it," Hussman told the UNC officials.

The Assembly said "multiple university sources" claimed that Hussman shared his concerns with trustee Kelly Matthews Hopkins. No known evidence suggests that he contacted the trustee in charge of lifetime appointments, Charles Duckett, whose request for more time to vet Hannah-Jones led the journalism school to offer her a fixed five-year position.

As a condition of Hussman's $25 million pledge in 2019, which remains to be fully paid out, the journalism school etched the "core values" of his newspapers in granite on the building. It also inverted its name to put "journalism" before "media."

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