ASU awards Cronkite award to NYT chief, despite paper playing loose with facts

Arizona State University has named the top New York Times editor as the recipient of its annual Walter Cronkite journalism award.

The award was given to Executive Editor Dean Baquet, despite the newspaper he oversees publishing the 1619 Project, parts of which has been debunked, and the outlet more recently retracting a podcast series.

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism has named New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet as this year’s recipient of the Walter Cronkite journalism award. 

In a tweet posted by the Cronkite School on December 17, interim-Dean Kristin Gilger stated, “he [Baquet] has stood for the core values of journalism-- integrity, honesty, and courage.”

The award comes amid heavy criticism of the New York Times handling of the 1619 project, which Baquet defended.

In an October 13 statement, Baquet defended the work of the New York Times’ more controversial projects, The 1619 Project. The project, which began in August 2019, initially claimed that America was founded to preserve the institution of slavery. 

In a relentless effort to push what many characterized as an anti-American narrative, the project came under heavy scrutiny from historians, other journalists, and readers for containing factual errors and supporting false ideologies about America’s history.

[RELATED: History prof debunked central claim in Pulitzer-winning New York Times essay]

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz circulated a letter objecting to the project. The letter then gained support and signatures from several other scholars, including Brown University professor and historian Gordon Wood, and Texas State University distinguished professor Victoria Bynum.

The letter was sent to three editors at the Times, as well as the publisher, on December 4, 2019. The Times responded with a rebuttal from editor Jake Silverstein. 

For the following year, claims of factual errors against the project mounted.

Northwestern University history professor Leslie Harris helped fact check the 1619 Project, and claimed in an op-ed published by Politico that the New York Times “ignored” her.

”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,” Harris wrote.

[RELATED: U Oregon’s 1619 Project common read ‘aims to reframe’ US history]

On May 5, however, Harris told Campus Reform, “I agree with the New York Times’s clarification, as printed on March 11, 2020.” 

The “clarification,” however, was more of a doubling down. 

”Today we are making a clarification to a passage in an essay from The 1619 Project that has sparked a great deal of online debate. The passage in question states that one primary reason the colonists fought the American Revolution was to protect the institution of slavery. This assertion has elicited criticism from some historians and support from others,” the Times stated. 

”We stand behind the basic point, which is that among the various motivations that drove the patriots toward independence was a concern that the British would seek or were already seeking to disrupt in various ways the entrenched system of American slavery,” the paper added. 

Baquet’s October statement, coming almost a year after the initial disparagements, continued to defend the work of 1619, calling it one of the most important pieces of journalism the organization has produced. 

He rejected the questions brought forth about the ethics and standards used to complete the project, admitting it “fills him with pride.” Baquet calls the work principled, groundbreaking, and transformative.

This statement has led readers and historians to call into question the true journalistic ethics at play for not only Baquet but the New York Times as a whole. 

ASU’s announcement of his coveted Cronkite award to the New York Times head editor came the same week the paper announced an “institutional failure” resulted in it retracting an entire podcast series. The podcast series, titled “Caliphate,” interviewed a man who claimed to have once been an ISIS executioner. Baquet has since admitted, however, that “the reporting team couldn’t find any independent evidence to back up his story of being an ISIS executioner in Syria.”

Past Cronkite award recipients include NBC’s Lester Holt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, PBS co-anchors Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill, and CBS’ Scott Pelley. ABC’s Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer, former CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, then NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas, NBC’s Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, and CNN’s Christianne Amanpour are also among the award’s past recipients. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RaeLeeKlein