Michael Goodwin: UNC clash over NY Times writer shows us what’s at stake for journalism's future

A dispute over whether a New York Times writer should get tenure at the University of North Carolina would seem to be of little national importance. But in fact, the outcome will signal whether traditional standards of journalism can survive the onslaught of racialized advocacy the Times embraces.

The clash is especially noteworthy because of the two main antagonists. Both are UNC graduates, but their views of journalism could not be more different.

On one side is Nikole Hannah-Jones, the flame-throwing creator of the Times’ 1619 Project. She won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for an extended essay, but some of her claims were debunked by historians and her push for rewriting American history is cited as a reason why she should not get tenure.

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Her chief critic is Walter E. Hussman Jr., the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and CEO of a family firm that owns newspapers, magazines and TV stations in the South and Midwest. As an evangelist for impartial, fair journalism, he is the polar opposite of Hannah-Jones and says he wishes the Times “would get back to what it once was.”

Most important to the case at hand, Hussman has

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