UNC donor says he doesn’t regret his role in journalism school losing Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones will not accept a full professor position at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism at Chapel Hill. The teachers are livid there. They said in an open letter Tuesday that his treatment by the university was “appalling” and downright “racist”.

Some blame pressure from Walter Hussman Jr., the $ 25 million donor the school is named for, for Hannah-Jones’ decision to take a position at Howard University instead.

Unsurprisingly, Hussman doesn’t see it that way. He had expressed strong reservations, he told me in a telephone interview, about the accuracy of “Project 1619,” a New York Times extensive review of slavery conducted by Hannah-Jones.

“I have no judgment on her (personally) – I’ve never met her,” he said. “… I’m sure I did what I should have done in the right way. I did not lobby against his appointment.

Even if it wasn’t, I asked, hadn’t Hussman suggested that she would be a better fit at another university? He advocates a traditional view of objectivity as a core value for journalists and said in a previous interview, “If she’s in their favor (her core values ​​list), maybe we could work together.” But if she opposes it, I’m going to wonder why did she want to go to work in a journalism school where she opposes the school’s core values?

Hussman said he meant he and Hannah-Jones would have a basis for talking anyway. He didn’t mean to say that she would be happier elsewhere if she didn’t agree.

He added that he had hoped to meet Hannah-Jones and the Dean Susan King School of Journalism, at least through Zoom, after Hannah-Jones was offered the position at UNC this spring, but the reunion never happened.

The sequence of events is important to understand, Hussman told me. He first learned of the efforts to recruit Hannah-Jones from King last August. Offered an introduction, he said he didn’t think it was appropriate at this early stage.

Rather, Hussman carefully read “Project 1619” and found that he agreed with some academic critics that he was exaggerating the importance of slavery as a possible cause of the American Revolution. In emails to King and other prominent university administrators, he said so.

“The narrative has become ‘a rich old white man trying to deny a talented young black reporter an opportunity,’” Hussman said. He reiterated that his objections were about the scholarship, not the person.

Despite his reservations about his much-publicized historical essay, which cited in his Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he said he had no objection to the board vote last week to offer Hannah-Jones a full term as well as a Knight Chair in race and investigative reporting.

The delays in that vote were at the heart of a very public controversy over whether administrators were undermining a faculty and administration recommendation regarding tenure.

A few years earlier, right after his gift to UNC, Hussman said, he made it a point to travel the country and talk to leaders and journalism educators about his ideas on core values.

Despite his own advocacy for objectivity, Hussman continued, he is well aware that the concept is being called into question. At one point, he said, he suggested inviting a debate with New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who argues in his academic work and social media posts that neutrality on both sides has become obsolete when it comes to the lies of former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Hussman also attended a symposium with the editors of the Daily Tar Heel on whether their student journalists should be allowed to express their opinions in social media posts. He didn’t think so, but they said yes.

And it’s open to further debate, Hussman said.

Hussman, 74, has been the editor of the family-owned Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock since his twenties. Parent company WEHCO Media also has large stakes in the cable system, the source of much of its wealth.

As the leader of a newspaper, Hussman is an iconoclast, opposed since the early 2000s to the provision of free digital content. More recently, it has pursued a strategy of printing only one day per week, offering subscribers iPads to read an e-replica version on the other days of the week.

As a southerner, Hussman admitted, he is sensitive to the charge of racism. In one statement written earlier Tuesday, he writes, “I certainly did not influence the ideology of the school; in fact, i firmly believe that a journalism school should not have ideology. Their job is to teach journalism, not ideology. I also don’t think (Hannah-Jones) tried to disparage white Americans. I think all those individuals of different races who fought side by side to end slavery and defend civil rights should be celebrated for working together. “

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