New York Times Distorts 1776 Commission Report
Today saw the release of a report of a presidential commission formed in the last days of the Trump administration. That report came from a body known as the 1776 Commission, a group established by President Donald Trump to essentially rebut the controversial and deeply influential 1619 Project — a project of The New York Times.
According to The New York Times, the Trump-appointed 1776 Commission “defends America’s founding on the basis of slavery.” It’s a characterization contained in the paper’s article headline as well as in the first paragraph of the story itself. That paragraph, which opens the article written by Times White House correspondent Michael Crowley, reads:
The Trump White House on Monday released the report of the presidential “1776 Commission,” a sweeping attack on liberal thought and activism that calls for a “patriotic education,” defends America’s founding on the basis of slavery and likens progressivism to fascism.
Please note the dual implications of this wording.
First, it suggests that the 1776 Commission defended not only the American founding but slavery itself! In other words, the 1776 Commission (according to Mr. Crowley’s suggestion) thinks that a nation being founded “on the basis of slavery” is a good thing.
The other implication is that the American founding did in fact have slavery as its basis — that the United States of America was established by Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, and all those guys for the purpose of protecting and perpetuating slavery.
And yet this characterization is precisely what the 1776 Commission is disputing.
In fact, Crowley’s headline and opening paragraph essentially accuse the 1776 Commission of affirming two things (support for slavery and the idea that the nation was founded on the “basis of slavery”) when, IN POINT OF FACT, the 1776 Commission is saying PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE!
If you read further in Crowley’s piece, he starts to mention more details and provide a better picture, but by then, the damage has been done. Newspapers know that most people read only the headlines, and those who read further than that may read the first couple of paragraphs. The distinct impression that Crowley’s Times piece leaves with most readers is that the 1776 Commission is defending slavery.
Say what you will about the 1776 Commission or about Donald Trump, but the 1776 Commission is not supporting slavery. On the contrary, their report condemns slavery. And they are not affirming slavery as the basis of the American founding. On the contrary, they are arguing it was not.
You may not agree with the 1776 Commission, but as the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. At least let the 1776 Commission speak for itself rather than sink to mischaracterization and slander.
For my own part, I obviously acknowledge and condemn both slavery and segregation — and the ongoing effects of these egregious sins in our nation’s past. And I wish the 1776 Commission had been a 1776 Conversation and that more voices from various perspectives (not just those who align with Trump or political conservatism) had been included.
I also wish more time would have been allotted to its work, rather than rushing it through the final days of Trump’s presidency.
The way this commission came about and the way it did its work undermines its perceived credibility and actual effectiveness.
While I love the United States of America and agree that the Founding Fathers often get unfairly maligned, and while I agree the 1619 Project is deeply flawed, I nevertheless am disappointed at how we’re just continuing a cycle of speaking past each other as Americans and entrenching ourselves in our various perspectives and positions.
If We Refuse to Love and Listen, Things Will Only Get Worse
Violence is not the answer, but neither is polarization or revenge
We need to listen more and talk less. We need to build bridges of trust and communication, and we need to have important conversations on matters raised by both the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission.
Hopefully, in the years ahead, we will do better. But misleading and unfair reporting like Crowley’s piece for The Times won’t get us there.