Pseudo-Historian David Barton Appears on The Daily Show

In case you missed last night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Christian pseudo-historian David Barton.

I haven’t had a chance to watch the extended interview yet (parts 2 and 3) but if you notice anything interesting, please leave the timestamps or summary in the comments!



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • jdm8

    Ugh.  I’ll skip this interview when I watch the show.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000390303945 Tony MacCabe

    I watched last night. John did not give this guy a hard time at all. Barton came across as entirely reasonable which is a total win for him. John could have pulled out a 100 controversial things/statements this guy has done. The book was about Jefferson. No mention of Jefferson cutting the miracles of Jesus from the Bible, as if Jesus were a mere man. John let him get away with portraying Jefferson as a highly religious person. More accurate to say that Jefferson loved Jesus for the man he was. Deist, theist, and atheist are different things, but all Barton said was that Jefferson wasn’t an atheist. I may be rare, but I’ve long understood that he was a deist. Barton conveniently avoided that. Making everyone think Jefferson was a theist is the next best thing to making us think he was Christian. He was far from it.

  • Dwayne_Windham

    His claim about a 5 yr old being physically picked up and scolded to stop praying over his lunch, and that the teacher / staff member in question had no punishment as a result is **HIGHLY** dubious, and even when Stewart questioned him on it – he doubled-down.  Someone PLEASE find me the proof to show this fool is lying through his teeth (yet again).

  • Formercorvguy

    He references a kid being grabbed by the scruff by a teacher for praying in school.  I googled this couldn’t find any reference at all.  Does this have any basis in reality or was it just pulled from his ass.

    • Au_catboy

       David Barton lies for a living.  Anything he says should be assumed false until he’s proven it at least a dozen times, with video from every angle and sworn affidavits from a hundred thousand eyewitnesses.  Even then, he’s probably making it up. 

    • Curt Muchmore

      I saw that last, at arounf the 5:20 mark he mentions this and it seems like it would be newsworthy. I googled and found a 12/25/1994 LA Times article (http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-25/news/mn-12943_1_school-prayer-amendment/2) that references a similar case in St. Louis, not a 5 but a 10-year old.

      At the time, Newt Gingrich cited the St. Louis case as evidence that “it’s illegal to pray,” even privately, in public schools.

      “The St. Louis case concerned 10-year-old Raymond Raines who, his mother said, was given detention because he sought to pray over his lunch. When lawyers for the Rutherford Institute heard about the case, they filed a lawsuit against the principal and issued a press release denouncing the school system.

      “I know it sounds bizarre, but we have substantial evidence to believe it appened,” said Timothy Belz, the St. Louis lawyer working with the Rutherford Institute.

      On NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” Gingrich described the situation as “a real case about a real child. Should it be possible for the government to punish you if you say grace over your lunch? That’s what we used to think of Russian behavior when they were the Soviet Union.”

      But school officials said the incident never happened. Rather, they said, Raymond was disciplined for fighting in the cafeteria.

      “I can tell you he was not reprimanded for praying,” said Kenneth
      Brostron, the school’s lawyer. “Do you think it makes sense that the teachers would look around the cafeteria and target the one student who was praying quietly at his seat?”

      • Jim

        I figured it would be something like that.  Every time I hear a story about a kid getting in trouble at school for something seemingly benign, I always think back to the book Nothing but the Truth by Avi.  

        There is always more to these kinds of stories than the public hears and we’re always quick to shout, “What a horrible teacher.  Fire their ass!”  

    • jdm8

      To add to Infohack’s article, a similar one from a different site:

      http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/david-barton-jon-stewart-and-myth-raymond-raines

      • Infohack

        As much as I am usually impressed with Jon Stewart’s skills as an interviewer, he seemed a bit off his game last night. I realize that he can’t google a story mid-interview to fact check a guest’s claims, but my immediate reaction was skepticism. Unfortunately, Stewart failed to challenge Barton at all when he began trying to make the case that Christianity is under attack in America.

        Barton also cited the Mark Holick case, who he claimed was arrested for “standing on a sidewalk and giving out the gospel of John to anyone who would take it.”

        In reality, Holick and Texas-based anti-abortion group Operation Save America staged a protest in Jackson Hole, Wyoming which included the use of graphic images of aborted fetuses and direct attacks on a local physician. After Jackson town officials issued a restraining order to keep Boy Scouts attending the annual Antler Auction from seeing graphic photos of aborted fetuses and to protect against violent reactions to the protests, Holick defied the order and was arrested. [Source: Jackson Hole Weekly]

        • Matunod

          Actially I think he was referring to Holick beig arrested for passing out Christian tracts in front of a mosque as Muslim services ended. He was technically arrested for loitering. Barton said it was two guys, the article below says Holick and 14 others.

          Source: http://www.greeleygazette.com/press/?p=6893

          For someone who wrote a book purporting to correct the record about Thomas Jefferson, you’d think Barton could get his contemporary facts straight.

    • Mglodeck

      I live in St. Louis so this obviously stood out. I haven’t heard about this at all and couldn’t find anything at all even close?

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Jon Stewart mostly misses the boat on this one, way too often conceding to the distortions that this guy is pushing. 

    Also, Jon Stewart seems to mix-up “secular” vs. “sectarian”, saying that he thinks secular does not mean religion-free, but rather he misunderstands and thinks secular means “non-denominational”. 

    Painful to watch this guest distort so much history, mostly without push-back from Jon Stewart (who I usually like, but not in this interview).

    • jdm8

      I don’t think Jon would have been better off declining the interview.  Barton is very well practiced and specialized in his BS generation and it is a different field from the usual politics and political spin that he has to deal with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    I recorded it hoping to see Stewart skewer this guy. Thanks for the warning. I’ll FF through it.

  • CultOfReason

    I had the same criticisms of Stewart the last time Barton appeared on his show.  As good as Stewart is with some guests, this guy always seems to get the better of him with his fallacious lies and inaccuracies.

  • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

    What a frustrating interview. Stewart let this idiot-biscuit blather on his ridiculous internal script rather than calling him out on his nonsense.

    Nothing like an interview making David Barton seem like a perfectly reasonable guy, right? Sheesh.

  • Stefan

    Just awful – in a case like this where we all know so much about the wall of separation, Jon comes off especially ignorant and gullible.   My respect for his interviews (granted, a comedy show), just fell a few notches.   I hope he gets Clay Jenkinson on the show to rebut the veracity of Mr. Barton’s fine work of mis-information and outright lies.

  • Deanna

    We, as people, are convinced that our understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is. What we need to realize is that the truth is what it is whether we believe it, understand it…or not. If we understood everything and were certain of everything what would the meaning of faith be and why would we need it. The gift of faith is given along with the gift of freedom. God gave us the gift of freedom so that we are free to choose Him…or not. Those who use their freedom to choose Him receive the gift of faith. God doesnt need faith because He has already chosen us. That is His promise to us and that is where true certainty is.

    • TheG

      Even as a former Christian, I can decipher what this is supposed to mean. Is anyone fluent in bat-crap? I would love a translation.

      • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

        The first two sentences were cogent enough, but it gets a little word salad-y after that.

    • Jeff Xenobuilder

       Really Deanna?  Really?

      • Deanna

        Hey, I’m a Deanna, but not that Deanna above!!

    • Stefan

      That’s assuming there is a god and it’s difficult to see what comes first, faith or belief or choice to believe based on a “gut” feeling and thousands of years of traditions.  

      Um, and what does this have to do with the Barton distortions and lies?  Is that what his faith has done for him, made him a mis-information machine?   So much of what he says is verifiably false or lacks any independent evidence beyond his say so…  He appears to have decided that it’s OK to lie as long as it’s in service to his beliefs.  I disagree with him.

    • Reginald

      Those who use their freedom to choose Him receive the gift of faith.

      What a nicely rounded argument. Almost circular, you might say.

    • Stefan

      Deanna – I realize this is Patheos, so we should be open to discussion.  I just wanted to help you understand “our” point of view a little better.  I think we all know that as humans, we probably can’t ever get to a “Truth”.   Science “knows” that there is no truth in the philosophical sense, there are only facts which are known to be facts because of converging lines of evidence based on careful, meticulous experiments and/or observations…and there is always the possibility that new facts will overturn conclusions, but rarely in any grand way.  New evidence usually just causes tweaks in theories under special conditions.

      Unfortunately (I guess) – from your viewpoint, we can’t really have faith in the way that you mean it.   Faith requires accepting something with scant or no evidence.  The only evidence I’ve ever seen for a supernatural being playing with the universe is in peoples gut feelings.  We (Atheists and Skeptics) also use our gut feeling in a sense, but it’s when we see an overwhelming amount of converging lines of evidence and our gut says – Yup…overwhelming amount is enough.   Most evidence I’ve ever heard for God is when people do a gut check and say they feel God (and not just some mental construction that feels like God)…since once the logical fallacies are revealed and assumptions are all shown to be without real evidence, people are just left with a gut check.

      If it makes your life feel more wonderful, I wouldn’t want to take that away from you.  But using those kind of arguments,  you will never get anywhere with people who don’t accept things on faith.

    • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

      Sure, it’s late and I’m tired and cranky, but that is pure gobbledygook.

  • http://twitter.com/porlob Patrick Orlob

    Just watched the extended interview.

    I didn’t consciously recognize Barton’s name at first, and just assumed (as presented) that it was some historian with a new Jefferson biography.

    Then the falsehoods started flowing. As others have noted, it’s true that Jefferson probably wasn’t an atheist. But I don’t find many people who claim he was. But he most assuredly was not a Christian, either. Plenty of atheists see common-cause with much of what Jefferson said, which is why his quotes appear on billboards and such.

    Then I realized that we were listening to David Barton.

    I also bristled when he started describing “secular” as meaning “religion-free” in reference to the government. That kind of language makes it easy to sway people to his side: “Oh, they want religion to be nonexistant!” Secularism in government means — to me and to many others — religious *neutrality*.

    Jon gave him a bit of pushback, but not nearly what his pseudohistory deserved.

  • Yoav

    The interview was always my least favorite part of the daily show, they are just set as a book (or movie or whatever) promotion segments. Stewart is a great host but he’s not really an interviewer and it’s clear that he never prep for an interview in any meaningful way beyond going over the book outline he get from the publisher, which make all his interviews just a place where an author can come in knowing that they will only get easy softball questions while they hock their stuff. This is why Barton went, he knew he will not be seriously challenged but he can now go on fix noise and boast about how he went into the lion’s den of the evil liberal media and emerged victorious, he will never dare go on any show where there’s a chance that he will be faced by a well prepared host who is willing to ask hard questions and refuse to accept unsubstantiated bullsh*t as evidence (unfortunately I’m not sure such shows actually exist anymore)

    • Tlceagle

      I’ve got to disagree. I think Stewart is the best interviewer on T.V.  Just because he doesn’t attack his guests, doesn’t mean he isn’t asking the right questions.  He just lets them answer, and lets us do the work to verify afterward (but will often do a follow up for those of us who don’t have time or care enough). His questions are thoughtful and respectful, and if his guests end up looking like fools because they, for instance, claim  to be Christan and then lie to prove their points, well, that is on them. He gave them the choice to go there or not.  Why does the show still exist?  Because Stewart is brilliant, knowledgeable, and very funny. I wouldn’t miss him.  (or Colbert, who is more excitable and has a quicker wit, but doesn’t always have the depth of knowledge – because he doesn’t need to, he’s a Conservative)

  • Gunstargreen

    Barton just made me madder and madder and Stewart let him prattle on. The only part where he really bit back was on the whole Catholic health insurance thing. He was right on the money there, that if religiously owned businesses want to exist in our world they need to be a part of it.

  • AJ

    Looking forward to Chris Rodda’s reaction. I really despise this crank, and the fact that John doesn’t go after him harder really ticks me off.

  • http://twitter.com/NontheistCentra Nontheist Central

    I tried.  I really did.  I just can’t listen to this guy.  Secular does NOT mean anti-religion.  It’s separation of religion from government.  The founding fathers were believers, but they were completely against the theocracy of England and took a secular stance on the making of our government.  That’s why we left and fought to become our own nation.  David Barton needs to shut the hell up because he’s completely misconstrued what the founding fathers had in mind.  I can’t stand this guy!!

  • scinquiry

    Nearly as shocking as the appearance of Barton in last nights show was the short segment on the Colbert Report involving Notre Dame Rev. Thomas Reese contesting Paul Ryan’s budget policy.  While I definitely am a fan of wealth redistribution, as was the Rev. Reese, I nearly fell out of my chair when the Rev. Reese, the CATHOLIC PRIEST, exclaimed with a straight face that we need to take care of those in need as Jesus taught by PAYING TAXES!  Hypocrite much?

    Re: Barton.  His argument for treating religion as a free speech issue, rather than giving it special treatment, is exactly what we as atheists are arguing.  I emphatically say ‘yes’ to his argument there.  I would love to openly discuss the veracity of his free speech.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Chris Rodda’s  (http://www.liarsforjesus.com/) is the best source of anti-Barton-Bullshit.  Her book used to be free for download, and it kinda still is, but I’m not sure is she still intends it to be.

    (sorry if this is a dup, This has been sitting on my screen for an hour)

  • Castilliano

    The last time Barton was on, and the topic was American political history, Stewart stood up to him, but Barton was such an expert BSer, and so earnest, that he flourished under the counterattack.
    So, Stewart brought in another expert a few days later that tore holes through all of Barton’s ‘solid’ arguments, and filled in all the holes Barton had handily left out.
    With evidence and sources.
    ***crossing fingers***  (Please do so again, Stewart.  Please tell me you were only letting this guy dig his own grave for the counter-interview later.)

    BTW, I have heard that Barton has admitted to fabricating some of his facts.  Which makes me wonder why anybody listens to him.  (Oh, and his book isn’t doing that well, relative to the media attention he’s getting.)

  • Rick S.

    Always find it ironic/amusing/disgusting when “religious” people lie to bolster their position, or to improve their self-depiction as persecuted victims. “If you want to live in a country that’s run by religion, move to Iran…”. Oooops, but it’s not YOUR religion? Good, now you understand what you’re trying to impose on me. And millions of others. Probably won’t stop people like him, though…

  • Ken

    I’m willing to cut Stewart some slack here.  Religion is not his strong suit, and Barton’s entire existence is dedicated to promoting this crap.  Still, it would be nice if Stewart followed up the St. Louis angle and did his usual point/counterpoint of the claims vs. the truth.  Unfortunately, some political nonsense fluff will probably crowd out such a story.  It’s easy to forget that the rest of the world really doesn’t care enough to think hard about these issues.  There is no more news — it’s all just entertainment.  Thankfully, religion is going down the same path with crap sensationalist liars like Barton.

  • Sarah T.

    I had to turn this interview off after a few minutes – after Barton (unintentionally? doubtful) claimed that all people who respect Jesus are Christians and that secular means ‘free of religion’, so anyone who is religious is never secular, or something.

    David Barton is well-known here in the state of Texas for being a revisionist history crank and lawsuit happy – when two Democratic candidates for the State Board of Education pointed out that he was associated with white/Christian supremacist groups, he sued them for defamation and libel.

    Both of his targets are running for SBOE again this year (Rebecca, Judy) if anyone wants to toss a few bucks their way.

  • Andy

    Mr. Barton is a master of spin and a liar…. at 4:45 in interview pt.1 Barton makes the claim that Pastor Mark Holick was arrested for simply handing out the gospel on the sidewalk. The truth is he was disrupting thepeace in front of a mosque during Ramadan…. Here’s the REAL story…http://www.kansas.com/2011/09/01/1998060/judge-orders-spirit-one-pastor.html#ixzz1WoNdT7kJ

  • Johnkupyn

    Thanks to those who posted explanations of most of Mr Bartons statements.  I liked the interview.  Stewart’s technique is to give enough rope to hang oneself.  By letting many outrageous comments slide, he was able to articulate his point of view pretty clearly.  

  • MartyM

    I’d love to see Stewart skewer Barton on the stances he takes, but Barton would never agree to be on the show if that were the position Jon would take.  I can only hope that once again, he’ll have a real historian on to the counter these claims in the near future.

    • Lary9

      Let him take on Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins for 20 minutes. See how he does with anyone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Jon Stewart is on a different mission—he’s out to restore civility to one-on-one encounters and get laughs.

  • BenZ

    I challenge anyone to watch this clip and continue to give credit to Jon for covering issues of religion. Jon has said in several interviews that he will defend anything that appears on his show, and I think he needs to apologize for this piece:

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-june-27-2002/headlines—in-god-we-fuss

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Thomas Lawson

    The back of David Barton’s books must be littered with citations that refer to imaginary books and Christian news websites…

  • dantresomi

    I learned about David barton several years ago. He was writing American  History as something inclusive and i was immediately interested. He discussed many Native Americans and African Americans, so he spoke to me. I attended one of his lectures at William & Mary and learned about his fundie ways. The thing about Barton is that he is slick with it. His version of American History implies that it was originally conceived as a Christian Nation and that the founding fathers meant it to be this way. The difference between Barton and say Pat Robertson is that he doesn’t bombard you with the usual fundie speak, he just uses the vernacular that average history academic uses it. He really sanitizes his work. 

    Thats why he gets booked at so many respectable universities who usually avoid this nonsense. Barton was on Stewart’s show a few years back and the exact same thing happened. Barton made several wrong statements and when Stewart pushed back, Barton quickly retorted and did a great job of defending his nonsense. Barton is real slick. Probably the best in his field. 

    Oh yeah, he is Kirk Cameron’s new “documentary” 

  • Frank Rapp53

    Several times Barton made statments to the effect that “the professors” object to his claims about Jefferson’s being religious and about his interpretaitons of church/state separaton with “But that’s not what Jefferson wanted.” I cannot recall ever hearing or reading that sentiment by anyone–a professor or otherwise. What I do hear is defense of church and state separation based on the Constitution. Has Barton deluded himself to the point where he really thinks that historians, political scientists, constitutional scholars, and such are as much concerned with TJ’s wants as they are with the Constitution or with TJ’s political philosophies? 

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ nothierthanthou

    This one is disappointing. Kid gloves all the way. In the end he let an absolute fraud present himself as a reasonable professional. That’s a win for Barton. One he does not deserve.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Jon: [about Jefferson] is that an argument that is being made? That he was an atheist?
    David: Yes, so many places. Especially with atheist societies, there were billboards put in the northwest, “Jefferson was an atheist”… there were so many folks.
    Jon: You do know nobody listens to them*big smile*
    David: You know that’s the fun part…

    What the fuck is this? Jon and David share a laugh over atheists being ignored? I want to smack both of them right now.

  • Pseudonym

    I appreciate that we’re calling pseudo-historians “pseudo-historian” here now. I expect David Fitzgerald to get the same treatment in the future.

  • Lary9

    Barton told an undocumented anecdote about a 5 year old child who was praying in school over his lunch and the teacher grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and ordered him to stop praying. My reaction was…(same as Jon Stewart’s)… it sounded like bullsh*t to me. Plus I couldn’t find a thing about such an incident on Google. But I found more absurd anecdotal references to the alleged suppression of Christians while in the appropriate public practice of their faith. In fact, I’ve rarely seen anyone react in a mean-spirited fashion to any Christian engaged in private prayer or other private devotional matters…ever! It’s only when they cross that line…the obnoxious and annoying “Jehovah’s Witness” line— and start bothering other people that I’ve seen them get “put down”.

  • L63122

    Well I do not know anything about Jon Stewart, or David Barton but I do know about the case involving Raymond Raines.  It is a true story.  It did happen.  Rutherford had numerous statements from both students and staff that witnessed the incidents.  The School District tried to pay The Raines over a million dollars to drop their suit.  The School District claimed that by making this public that they had embarrassed the school district (which they did) but the Raines maintained that they embarrased themselves by their own actions. At any rate the Raines said that their values were not for sale and refused to drop the suit.  It was finally settled out of court when the School District agreed to adopt a policy that allowed children  (of any religion) to voluntarily pray. Raymond never prayed out loud, or involved anyone else.  They only caught him because her was folding his hands in a prayer like manner when he prayed.  The Raines did not make any money out of the case.  It is something that never should have happened but unfortunately did.


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