Saturday, May 7, 2011

David Barton in the Media Spotlight

As mentioned in my previous post, right-wing historian and Wallbuilders founder David Barton has been in the media spotlight this week, thanks to a front-page article in the New York Times and an interview with Jon Stewart on the May 4th edition of The Daily Show. (Parts I and II of the extended interview are available at The Daily Show website as well.)

Barton, author of Separation of Church and State: What the Founders Meant, has been celebrated by figures on the right such as Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee, while being accused of promoting revisionist history by critics on the left. Interestingly enough, Barton accuses other historical sources of being revisionist in a 2005 post at Wallbuilders. (See www[dot]wallbuilders[dot]com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=112)

The New York Times article highlighted the advisory role Barton plays for several prominent right-wing political figures, including Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann. It also discussed his right-leaning political views, noting that Barton maintains a network of approximately seven-hundred anti-abortion legislators. Most importantly, the article did not flinch from the controversies surrounding Barton's historical work, which several commentators have branded as distorted history. Nor did it neglect some of Barton's more controversial conclusions, such as his belief that the Founding Fathers did not intend to have a high wall of separation between church and state, as well as his 1988 study correlating out-of-wedlock births, violent crime, and declining SAT scores with bans on prayer in public school.

During his appearance on the May 4th edition of The Daily Show, Barton described his work with original American historical documents as "historical reclamation." When Jon Stewart pressed him about his work on school textbooks and curriculum, Barton insisted that his curricula added more details about minorities and women in early American history. When Stewart confronted him about his stance on church-state separation, Barton argued that the Founding Fathers intended for separation of institutions, not separation of influence.

While the article and the interview with Jon Stewart helped make more people aware of Barton, they really only scratched the surface of the controversies surrounding his work. People for the American Way have released two hard-hitting articles on Barton's work, as well as his controversial positions on LGBT rights, environmental issues, religious minorities, and church-state separation.

People for the American Way: Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America

People for the American Way: David Barton: Propaganda Masquerading as History


  1. The founding fathers intended for a separation of institutions, not a separation of influence? Six in one, half a dozen in the other?

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- I don't get it either.

  3. It interests me how acceptable it is to lie these days. People are always saying that morality is in an across the board decline. I do not believe that is true. Over the past 100 or so years, there have been many areas of morality that seem to have improved. Yet, one of the areas that does not seem to have improved - and actually seems to have spun off into decline - is the apparently increasing acceptance of lies and liars. I would submit that Barton's success as an "historian" might be in part attributable to a decline in sanctions against lying.

  4. I could never understand, in the past, where the Dobsons of the world got the idea that the founding fathers where fundy Christians that wanted the United States to be a religious nation. It turns out it's because of pseudo-scientists like this guy.

  5. Paul -- I would attribute it more to historical illiteracy (or seeing history through right-wing lenses) among Americans. Your theory is interesting, and I suspect that lying will be with the world for a long time.

    Exfundy -- I suspect they feed off of each other, which is how memes like that gain traction.

  6. I did a little googling about a year ago on the subject of lying and cheating. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any studies to either support or contradict my notion that lying is on the increase over the past 100 years or so in America. (I recall I did find one or two inconclusive studies that suggested cheating on such things as academic tests and taxes was on the increase.) My main reason for thinking lying might be on the increase is, I regret to say, merely anecdotal. *Sigh* I guess I might never know. But it does remain a suspicion with me. I wish I could at the very least disprove it, because it irks me not to know.


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