‘Historian’ David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson pulled from stores

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, August 10, 2012 13:11 EDT
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A portion of the cover art on evangelical activist David Barton's book "The Jefferson Lies." Photo via Wallbuilders.com.
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David Barton, an evangelical activist and writer often cited as a “historian” by conservative political figures like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, stirred up such a firestorm of controversy with his latest book “The Jefferson Lies” that his publisher now claims to have “lost confidence” in the text, opting Thursday evening to pull it from stores.

The announcement by Christian mega-publisher Thomas Nelson comes after readers of The History News Network at George Mason University elected Barton’s latest work as “the least credible history book in print.” It was also challenged by an assemblage of “10 conservative Christian professors” in the recently released book, “Getting Jefferson Right,” which accuses Barton of grossly misrepresenting the nation’s third president.

The author of “Getting Jefferson Right,” Warren Throckmorton, fact-checked Barton’s book and found a number of basic historical facts that Barton got wrong, like Barton’s claim that Jefferson invested in an American printing of the Bible, when in fact he only bought one copy. Barton also claimed that Jefferson was barred by law from freeing his slaves, but that too is objectively false. Professors sought out by Throckmorton — all of whom believe that America was founded as a Christian nation — said that Barton’s writing seems too eager to depict Jefferson as an adamant Christian, glossing over his less than conventional views of religion and the Christian deity figure.

The especially egregious claims about slavery struck a chord with a group of African American pastors and Jewish leaders in Cincinatti, who called for a boycott of Barton’s publisher for allowing Barton to offer a justification for Jefferson owning slaves.

“David Barton falsely claims that Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves,” one of the pastors said in a media advisory issued Tuesday. “In fact, Jefferson was allowed to free his slaves under Virginia law, but failed to do it. The Jefferson Lies glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views.”

That apparently wasn’t lost on Nelson. Just one day after National Public Radio featured a scathing profile of Barton that ran some fact checking on some of his more dubious claims, Nelson’s top brass decided that was quite enough. A corporate spokesperson told Christian news publication World on Thursday that all copies of “The Jefferson Lies” would be pulled off the Internet and removed from bookstores.

“[In] the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported,” a spokesperson repeatedly said. “Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

By Friday morning, Barton’s the book had vanished from Nelson’s website. Their online store, however, still features titles like: “Showdown with Nuclear Iran” by conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi; “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives have Penetrated Washington” by Paul Sperry; “Illegals,” an anti-immigrant screed by Thomas Nelson; “Heaven Is For Real,” by the parents of a little boy who claims he experienced the Christian vision of an afterlife paradise; and “The Quotable Rogue,” a collection of Sarah Palin quotes.

For Barton, having his book pulled by a seemingly friendly Christian publishing house is an enormous defeat. This type of humiliation is incredibly rare for professional writers, and just two in recent years spring to mind: James Frey, who fabricated his story of overcoming drug addiction in “A Million Little Pieces,” and Jonah Lehrer, who made up fake Bob Dylan quotes in his book “Imagine: How Creativity Works.”

Despite the book’s factual ineptitude, Barton’s publishing company WallBuilders is already offering copies of “The Jefferson Lies” at a discount.

Photo: A portion of the cover art from Barton’s “The Jefferson Lies,” via Wallbuilders.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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