David Barton says things that are not true

David Barton says things that are not true May 4, 2012

Who is David Barton?” CNN’s Dan Gilgoff asks.

And then Gilgoff refuses to answer his own question.

Instead, Gilgoff retreats into a wretched, flaccid display of false-equivalence, view-from-nowhere, opinions-on-the-shape-of-earth-differ non-journalism.

“Barton’s work has drawn many critics,” Gilgoff writes, in lieu of actual journalism.

That’s a remarkable sentence. It’s like saying, “Bernie Madoff’s investment skills have drawn many critics.” Or, “Ty Cobb’s sportsmanship has drawn many critics.” Or, “Leroy Jenkins’ teamwork has drawn many critics.”

Who is David Barton? David Barton is a man who says things that are not true.

David Barton makes stuff up. He surgically alters quotations deliberately in order to deceive others.

David Barton says things that are not true. He is not merely “controversial.” He is not merely “a lightning rod for critics.” His many, many false assertions are not merely “disputed” or “questioned” or “challenged.”

David Barton says things that are not true. After being repeatedly, publicly corrected, he repeats those very same untrue statements. This is what he does. This is how he makes his living.

David Barton has not attracted “critics.” David Barton says things that are not true, and those Gilgoff mislabels as his “critics” are simply those many, many people who have pointed out the many, many untrue things that David Barton has said. His false statements are obvious. His false statements are extravagant. His false statements are hard to miss.

David Barton says things that are not true. That is the primary, pre-eminent, pervasive fact about David Barton.

To say anything else about David Barton without also saying that is to be inaccurate, misleading and dishonest.

Here’s Martin Marty on David Barton:

This spring Barton is publishing The Jefferson Lies, which most historians would title Barton’s Lies about Jefferson. Astonishingly, he twists a slight reference to Jefferson’s book on Jesus and turns it into a tract which, Barton says, Jefferson would use in order to convert the Indians to Christianity. Reviewer Craig Ferhman in the Los Angeles Times found all that Barton found to be “outrageous fabrication.” On TV, Barton even said, with no evidence, that Jefferson gave a copy of his Jesus book to a missionary, to use “as you evangelize the Indians.” Had the Indians been converted with that text, their heirs would have had no place to go but to what became the humanist wing of the Unitarian-Universalist church.

Why does any of this matter? One, basic honesty is at issue; do American religionists need to invent such stories in order to prevail? Two, what if they did prevail? Most of the founders thought that religion was most honest and compelling when its leaders and gatherings did not depend upon lies about the state and, of course, upon the state itself.

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  • SamLL

    Well, at least he has chicken.

  • TheDarkArtist

    Jon Stewart had this idiot on The Daily Show earlier this week, and later in the week had that moron senator Tom Coburn on, and he gave them the softest of softball interviews, it was really disappointing and, frankly, puke inducing. There’s a kind of manner these guys all have that, if you’re used to listening to them speak, you can tell they’re lying without completely lying: spinning and telling half-truths.

    Truly disappointing, that’s the only word for it.

  • I saw that episode of The Daily Show earlier this week.  I could not bring myself to watch more than the first few minutes of the Barton interview.  I had seen him on that show before, and frankly just listening to him makes my brain go numb. 

  • Robyrt

    Yeah, that article is really bizarre. Gilgoff even links to Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College (not exactly a leftist bastion) whose refutation is quick and thorough, yet somehow never comes out and says Barton is a bad historian.

  • everstar

    Most of Jon’s guests only get my meter to flip over to “annoyance” or “loud vexation,” but Mr. Barton gets me to peg out at “incoherent rage” rather easily.  I think it’s the way he just sits there meebling out nonsense.  It boggles my mind the way he blithely chops up the text he cites to obtain the meaning he wants.  How he can claim to have read what he’s read and have drawn the conclusions to which he’s come, I do not know.

    I shall now go read something very dry with extensive footnotes.  This will either calm me down or put me to sleep.  Either is better.

  • Yeah, I was disappointed to see that Barton was going to be a guest on TDS because I knew – from his previous appearance on the show and from years of being a regular viewer – that Jon would not have the wherewithal to dispute some of the less obviously untrue statements and that his generally amenable nature as an interviewer would mean that Barton would get a platform from which he could spout his sectarian spin and outright lies unchallenged.
    It did make me think, though, that we should lobby for Fred to be invited on the show as a guest, either to simply discuss this very blog (and perhaps, more specifically, the deconstruction of Left Behind), or, should he manage to get something published, to push some paper…

  • -Steele

    I enjoyed the part of the interview where John Stewart says what ‘Secular’ actually means, and then Barton says “Well that’s not what I think it means!”

    As for the book… Was Jefferson an atheist? I don’t think so. I don’t think he really cared about religion Everything I’ve read, however, would bring me to the conclusion that he was without a doubt a ‘secularist’. In fact, after reading Barton’s book, I am even more convinced than I was before that Jefferson was a secularist.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    Jefferson described himself as a “deist.”  He believed in a divine power that created the universe, and then let it run on its own according to the laws of Nature.  He emphatically did not believe in divine revelation, and therefore dismissed most of the Bible.  He believed that Jesus was a wise and enlightened mortal man who taught a wonderful system of ethics and morals, but did not believe in His divinity, virgin birth, miracles, or resurrection from the dead.

    I’d ask Barton this: if Jefferson was such a devout mainstream Christian, then why were the Christian conservatives of the day so vehemently opposed to him?  Some even referred to him as an “atheist” (which was not at all correct).

    I remember reading somewhere that Thomas Jefferson is probably the most misquoted person in all of American history.  I think I believe it.

  • I’m a history major.

    David Barton is the equivalent of a so-called astrophysicist claiming that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. Actually, no, worse. He’s the equivalent of someone claiming to be an astrophysicist and saying the moon is made of green cheese.

    I am incredibly pissed off that ANYONE would give this charlatan lying asshole con artist evil piece of shit vile lying liar one bit of air time anywhere. It’s not about “opinion”. It’s not about “critics”. It’s about the fact that HE IS A LYING CON ARTIST. And if history were considered an important subject in our schools, he would not be able to victimize people.

  • Wait until Fred has some of his blog entries compiled into a nice published book, then have him go on The Daily Show to promote it.  That would be awesome.  :D

  • Vardulon

    Actually, that’s a good point – why can’t I buy a collected edition of the Left Behind deconstruction? I’d even accept an E-book.

  • Barton is not a bad historian.  But that’s only because he isn’t really a historian at all.

  • Keulan

    I graduated from college a year ago with a degree in history. David Barton is not a historian. He’s like a so-called biologist who is a creationist. The only difference is he lies about history instead of science.

  • I remember being surprised when the word “Deist” did not come up in
    Stewart’s interview with Barton. Even though, ironically, Jon’s
    summation of Jefferson was essentially correct; he had everything but
    the word for what Jefferson was.

  • hf

     I heard Barton say something about a teacher punishing a student in an implausible way for praying. I think Stewart should have replied, “That is either a lie or a gross misrepresentation.” Because if the story happened as stated, with no important factors left out, the ACLU would have sued on the kid’s behalf and won. They might do that anyway.

    Googled it just now, after writing that, and saw this quote from RightWingWatch:

    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?”


  • hf

     Some even referred to him as an “atheist” (which was not at all correct).

    It seems pretty close. You may recall I was surprised to learn that deists still existed, post Darwin. (Quick Googling finds exactly one case of a person who allegedly converted to deism from atheism.) In addition to the changes that Darwin brought, people in Jefferson’s day likely thought that only humans could do math. So the existence of mathematical-looking “laws” of physics seemed like good evidence of a human-like Creator (or one we’d recognize as a person). Now that we have computers it seems clear that a lot of other claims need to hold in order for you to have human-level intelligence, never mind human-like intelligence.

    So yeah, I might have been a deist too if I lived back then.

  • Barton is a fraud, pure and simple. It is a shame that CNN chose to portray him as a controversial source. As the author here pointed out, his conduct is well beyond the pale.