Even when he’s almost correct, David Barton doctors his accounts of history to make them false: Misquoting John Adams

July 5, 2013

Here’s David Barton‘s screw-up of a John Adams letter:

David Barton cuts John Adams's words off

David Barton’s “Wallbuilders” website featured John Adams’s description of July 2 — but conveniently edited out Adams’s own words, to make it appear as something else. Barton misses the history! What sort of anti-American cuts the words of John Adams when Adams defends liberty’s heritage?

Other groups make the same error as David Barton's Wallbuilders, but without obvious cover ups, restricting their comments to "Independence Day." Accuracy helps, always.

Other groups make the same error as David Barton’s Wallbuilders, but without obvious cover ups, restricting their comments to “Independence Day.” Accuracy helps, always.

“The . . . day of July, 1776?”  What day?

[Barton’s site changes annually, but it keeps repeating the cover-up.]

Faithful readers, and good students of history know that John Adams thought, in 1776, that July 2 would be celebrated as Independence Day.  Why?  July 2, 1776, was the day the 2nd Continental Congress voted to declare the colonies independent of Britain, and no longer under the rule of the Crown or Parliament.

The Declaration of Independence — the press release explaining Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence — sat ready to be discussed.  The Congress did not adopt the Declaration until two days later, on July 4.

Our Independence Day celebration falls on the date of the adoption of the Declaration, not the date of the actual resolution declaring independence.

This is a point of great humor among historians.  Even John Adams, more prescient than most soothsayers, could not predict accurately when Americans would celebrate independence.  Here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, we often make a post on or about July 2, noting that humorous discrepancy.

That’s interesting.  It’s inspiring to know these august figures, near-gods in the American pantheon of the 21st century, got things wrong.  It’s humorous.  It’s good history.

What in the hell was David Barton thinking?

What evil purpose is he trying to serve by hiding real history, in such a bizarrely petty way?  Why create a hoax when the words themselves support the point you’re wishing to make, that John Adams thought Americans should celebrate independence?

Screenshot of David Barton's webpage, showing his bizarre butchery of Adams's words.

Screenshot of David Barton’s webpage, showing his bizarre butchery of Adams’s words.

Sheesh! He comes so close to getting something accurate, but he can’t resist monkeying with the words of the Founders.  David Barton reminds me of the guy who cheated at golf so much that, one day when he hit a hole-in-one, he wrote “0!” on the scorecard.  A man who will lie to us about one of the most famous letters in American history will lie about anything, for fun.


John Adams, ca 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Bro...

‘David Barton said what?’ By the time this portrait was painted, Adams knew Americans would celebrate the 4th, and not the 2nd; he seems to be glaring right at David Barton, to tell Barton to quit jerking around with history – John Adams, ca 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Brooklyn Museum) Wikipedia image

Crank history assault on Alabama Public Television

July 10, 2012

Highly disturbing news from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Alabama Public Television Apparently Heading Far Right

Posted in Extremist Propaganda

by Mark Potok on June 18, 2012

Lord help us. Alabama Public Television (APT), a voice of reason in a state that often seems to have very little, is apparently succumbing to the crazies.

Last week, the two top executives of the network were summarily fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission, APT’s governing body, after they resisted an effort by a new commissioner to air DVDs produced by a far-right theocrat who has been roundly condemned by historians. In the days that followed, three members of a foundation set up to raise money for APT also resigned.

The videos were produced by David Barton, an evangelical propagandist who claims falsely that America was founded as a Christian nation and has also become Glenn Beck’s unofficial — and completely untrained — “historian.” The DVDs were suggested by commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika-based chiropractor who was appointed to the panel last year and elected its secretary in January.

Immediately after meeting in executive session June 12, commissioners ordered APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, to clear out their desks and leave APT’s Birmingham headquarters. Pizzato had been APT executive director for 12 years; Howland was his deputy director and the network’s chief financial officer.

Pizzato would not comment on the reasons for the firing, other than to say commissioners were seeking to go in “a new direction.” But Howland, in an interview with Current.org, a news service of the American University’s School of Communication, said that Pizzato and his staff had “grave concerns” about airing the videos, which strongly advocate a religious interpretation of the past that historians say is simply wrong. She said she was “baffled” by the firings but recalled Pizatto asking his staff for advice on how to respond to Herring’s proposal.

Commission Chairman Ferris Stephens disputed Current’s report in an interview with The Associated Press, but gave no specifics. Herring, for his part, claimed that disagreement over the Barton DVDs played an “at best minimal” role in the firings, which he described as part of an overall restructuring effort. “We believe it to be a positive change,” wrote another commissioner, conservative talk radio host J. Holland, in response to AP’s queries about the firings. “Simple as that.”

As simple as that? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it.

Stephens told the AP that Barton’s videos had been discussed in the last meeting before the one that produced the firings last week. He said there was another item related to Barton’s organization, WallBuilders, on the agenda for last week’s meeting, but that the commission didn’t get to that item before adjourning. Herring, for his part, denied knowing that Pizzato and Howland had any opinion at all about the DVDs, although Howland told Current that Pizzato had made it clear that he thought the films were “inappropriate” for APT.

Why is it that Pizzato and Howland were fired just as the matter seemed to be coming to a head? Why won’t Stephens and the other commissioners cough up the real reason for the firings, if it wasn’t what seems obvious? When the AP story ran last week, Herring was quoted saying the station may indeed broadcast some of the Barton videos. In fact, he said the commission had consulted attorneys about that possibility. That’s a funny thing to do if you’re just deciding whether to show a film on public television, not making controversial personnel decisions.

The sad truth is, this kind of extremism is getting to be par for the course in Alabama. We passed the immigrant-bashing H.B. 56 and, when legal problems with it came up, our legislators responded by actually making the draconian bill even worse. Last month, the same legislature, after the John Birch Society warned hysterically about a United Nations global sustainability plan, actually passed a law saying that property here cannot be confiscated as part of Agenda 21 — even though that entirely voluntary plan does not and could not require that. One of our current congressmen even claimed a few years back that he knew of 17 “socialists” in the U.S. Congress — although, like Joe McCarthy, he declined to name them.

Why does Rodney Herring want to show Barton’s videos? He isn’t saying. But what Barton has to say should make Alabamians’ hair stand on end.

Barton doesn’t only not believe in global warming — he thinks reducing carbon dioxide emissions would actually devastate the planet. Barton fought to have the names of Martin Luther King Jr. and labor activist Cesar Chavez removed from public school textbooks. He says God set the borders of nations, so immigration reform is unnecessary. He argues that homosexuality should be regulated because gay people “die decades earlier than heterosexuals” and more than half of all gays have had more than 500 sex partners — both falsehoods.

It isn’t only liberals who dislike Barton. Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute on Church-State Studies at Baylor University, says “a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.” J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, says his writings are “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact.” Mark Lilla, a scholar who has taught at University of Chicago and Columbia University, says Barton’s work is “schlock history written by [a] religious propagandist” and uses “selective quotations out of context.”

But none of this apparently came up when the commissioners, in their great wisdom, decided to fire Allan Pizzato and Pauline Howland. Instead, it looks like Barton’s backers succeeded, by a reported 5-2 vote, in silencing their own eminently sensible executives, and then refusing to come clean with the public about their action.

Once again, Alabama will be the poorer. Lord help us.

Supporters of Alabama Public Television set up a website to provide information on the fight to save APT.

David Barton is, of course, the voodoo history promoter from Texas, former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party who led the party into a variety of anti-education policies.  Barton’s organization to spread his bogus history claims is Wallbuilders.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ellie.


David Barton vs. reality, manners, and scholarship

October 7, 2009

As expected, people are finding historical and other errors in David Barton’s critique of the Texas social studies standards.

I noted this in a comment at Texas Freedom Network’s blog, The Insider:

This isn’t exactly an error, but it creeps me out.  Barton goes on at length about  incorporating the views of  a scholar of economics — but he never names the guy, and Barton seems overly affected and concerned about the guy’s residence and Jewishness.

See the section of Barton’s report talking about free enterprise (page 7). The real experts, the social studies teachers and professors whose work the Board appears to have rejected, suggested bringing the economic discussion into the 21st century and use “capitalism” instead of “free enterprise.” This would make the Texas curriculum correlate with the studies in the area done by social scientists, especially economists, and more accurately and precisely describe the system.

That is one reason given for rejecting their work, that the Board doesn’t want to mention capitalism. They don’t want to call capitalism by the name economists use.

But look at Barton’s suggestion. He veers off on a tangent about ethics in capitalism — I would venture that Barton never took any economics courses he can remember, and he’s never read Adam Smith, judging from the nature of his complaint (ethics is very much a discussion in economics). But it just gets weird. He refers to a paper, without citation, by a “Jewish economist” in the “Pacific Northwest.”

Barton doesn’t name the paper. He doesn’t say where it was published, nor offer any other citation by which it might be tracked down. Most creepily, he keeps referring to the “Jewish economist” as if his faith or ethnic background has any relevance, without ever naming the guy.

That isn’t scholarship. He almost makes a good point, but any valuable point is completely overcome by the bigoted lack of scholarship, the mere convention of naming the author of the paper and offering a citation.

Expert? No, certainly not in manifestation. That’s just creepy.

Here is the section I’m talking about:

Comment D: Free-Enterprise & Capitalism
Throughout the TEKS, the term “free enterprise” has been followed by the parenthetical “(free market, capitalism)”.By including the terms capitalism and free-market as synonyms for free-enterprise, perhaps it is now time to consider the merits of an observation concerning capitalism raised by a Jewish economist in the Pacific Northwest.

In previous generations, capitalism and the free-market system was universally operated on the unstated but unanimously assumed foundation of general societal virtue – there was a general set of assumed values and ethics that remained at the basis of transactions.

For example, to this day we assume that when a waiter brings us a glass of water that he did not spit in it before he delivered it to us. We assume that when we get the oil in our car changed that the mechanic actually changed the oil rather than just put a new sticker on the windshield. We make many Golden Rule type assumptions in the operation of the free-market system of capitalism.

When these general societal principles of ethics and morality are observed, the Free Enterprise System works as it should; but when these principles are ignored, the FreeEnterprise System breaks down and produces Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas, Joe Nacchio, Gregory Reyes, James McDermott, Sam Waskal, Sam Israel, Bernie Ebbers, and many others recently convicted of fraud, theft, corruption, and other white collar crimes that bilked clients of billions of dollars. The traditional Free Market System will not operate properly if the guiding premise is the egocentric Machiavellian principle that the end justifies the means.

We are now at a point in our history where we can no longer assume that the previously universally understood ethical basis of the Free Enterprise System will still be observed, understood, or embraced. Therefore, the Jewish economist in the Pacific Northwest has proffered that rather than using “Capitalism,” we instead begin using the term “Ethical Capitalism,” for it captures the historical import of the system and identifies an underlying principle without which the free-enterprise system will not work.
Therefore, I recommend that when we have the phrase “free enterprise (free market, capitalism)” that we instead consider using “free enterprise (free market, ethical capitalism).” It is an accurate recognition of what is one of the unspoken but indispensable elements of the free enterprise system. This change also reinforces the long-standing premise of political philosophers across the centuries that the continuation of a republic is predicated upon an educated and a virtuous citizenry.

Who is he talking about?  What is he talking about?

More information:

  • Steve Schaffersman, the intrepid force behind Texas Citizens for Science, has a longer exposé of Barton’s odd claims and work to frustrate accurate history in Texas at Schaffersman’s Houston Chronicle hosted blog, EvoSphere.  It’s well worth the read, just to see how intricately bizarre and erroneous Barton can be about simple facts of history, and how Barton chooses to misinterpret the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, and how he exaggerates little facts of history into gross distortions of the American story.  I regret I failed to note this article here, in the first edition.
  • Hey, also check out Steve’s other posts on the most recent SBOE meetings, here, and here.

David Barton: Mediocre scientists who are Christian, good; great scientists, bad

July 9, 2009

I’m reviewing the reviews of Texas social studies curricula offered by the six people appointed by the Texas State Board of Education.  David Barton, a harsh partisan politician, religious bigot, pseudo-historian and questionable pedagogue, offers up this whopper, about fifth grade standards.:

In Grade 5 (b)(24)(A), there are certainly many more notable scientists than Carl Sagan – such as Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse, etc.

Say what?  “More notable scientists than Carl Sagan . . . ?”  What is this about?

It’s about David Barton’s unholy bias against science, and in particular, good and great scientists like Carl Sagan who professed atheism, or any faith other than David Barton’s anti-science brand of fundamentalism.

David Barton doesn’t want any Texas child to grow up to be a great astronomer like Carl Sagan, if there is any chance that child will also be atheist, like Carl Sagan.  Given a choice between great science from an atheist, or mediocre science from a fundamentalist Christian, Barton chooses mediocrity.

Currently the fifth grade standards for social studies require students to appreciate the contributions of scientists.  Here is the standard Barton complains about:

(24) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the impact of science and technology on life in the United States. The student is expected to:

(A) describe the contributions of famous inventors and scientists such as Neil Armstrong, John J. Audubon, Benjamin Banneker, Clarence Birdseye, George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison, and Carl Sagan;
(B) identify how scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of oil, and the rapid growth of technology industries have advanced the economic development of the United States;
(C) explain how scientific discoveries and technological innovations in the fields of medicine, communication, and transportation have benefited individuals and society in the United States;
(D) analyze environmental changes brought about by scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as air conditioning and fertilizers; and
(E) predict how future scientific discoveries and technological innovations could affect life in the United States.

Why doesn’t Barton like Carl Sagan?  In addition to Sagan’s being a great astronomer, he was a grand populizer of science, especially with his series for PBS, Cosmos.

But offensive to Barton was Sagain’s atheism.  Sagan wasn’t militant about it, but he did honestly answer people who asked that he found no evidence for the efficacy or truth of religion, nor for the existence of supernatural gods.

More than that, Sagan defended evolution theory.  Plus, he was Jewish.

Any one of those items might earn the David Barton Stamp of Snooty-nosed Disapproval, but together, they are about fatal.

Do the scientists Barton suggests in Sagan’s stead measure up? Barton named four:

Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse

In the category of “Sagan Caliber,” only von Braun might stake a claim.  Wernher von Braun, you may recall, was the guy who ran the Nazi’s rocketry program.  After the war, it was considered a coup that the U.S. snagged him to work, first for the Air Force, and then for NASA.  Excuse me for worrying, but I wonder whether Barton likes von Braun for his rocketry, for his accommodation of anti-evolution views, or for his Nazi-supporting roots.  (No, I don’t trust Barton as far as I can hurl the Texas Republican Party Platform, which bore Barton’s fould stamp while he was vice chair of the group.)

So, apart from the fact that von Braun was largely an engineer, and Sagan was a brilliant astronomer with major contributions to our understanding of the cosmos, what about the chops of the other four people?  Why would Barton suggest lesser knowns and unknowns?

Matthew Maury once headed the U.S. Naval Observatory, in the 19th century.  He was famous for studying ocean currents, piggy-backing on the work of Ben Franklin and others.  Do a Google search, though, and you’ll begin to undrstand:  Maury is a favorite of creationists, a scientist who claimed to subjugate his science to the Bible.  Maury claimed his work on ocean currents was inspired at least in part by a verse in Psalms 8 which referred to “paths in the sea.”  Maury is not of the stature or achievement of Sagan, but Maury is politically correct to Barton.

Joseph Henry is too ignored, the first head of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry made his mark in research on magnetism and electricity.  But it’s not Henry’s science Barton recognizes.  Henry, as a largely unknown scientist today, is a mainstay of creationists’ list of scientists who made contributions to science despite their being creationists.  What?  Oh, this is inside baseball in the war to keep evolution in science texts.  In response to the (accurate) claim that creationists have not contributed anything of scientific value to biology since about William Paley in 1802, Barton and his fellow creationists will trot out a lengthy list of scientists who were at least nominally Christian, and claim that they were creationists, and that they made contributions to science.  The list misses the point that Henry, to pick one example, didn’t work in biology nor make a contribution to biology, nor is there much evidence that Henry was a creationist in the modern sense of denying science.  Henry is obscure enough that Barton can claim he was politically correct, to Barton’s taste, to be studied by school children without challenging Barton’s creationist ideas.

Maria Mitchell was an American astronomer, the second woman to discover a comet. While she was a Unitarian and a campaigner for women’s rights, or more accurately, because of that, I can’t figure how she passes muster as politically correct to David Barton.  Surely she deserves to be studied more in American history than she is — perhaps with field trips to the Maria Mitchell House National Historic LandmarkIt may be that Barton has mistaken Mitchell for another creationist scientist. While Mitchell’s life deseves more attention — her name would be an excellent addition to the list of woman scientists Texas children should study — she is not of the stature of Sagan.

David Rittenhouse, a surveyor and astronomer, and the first head of the U.S. Mint, is similarly confusing as part of Barton’s list.  Rittenhouse deserves more study, for his role in extending the Mason-Dixon line, if nothing else, but it is difficult to make a case that his contributions to science approach those of Carl Sagan.  Why is Rittenhouse listed by Barton?  If nothing else, it shows the level of contempt Barton holds for Sagan as “just another scientist.”  Barton urges the study of other scientists, any other scientists, rather than study of Sagan.

Barton just doesn’t like Sagan.  Why?  Other religionists give us the common dominionist or radical religionist view of Sagan:

Just what is the Secular Humanist worldview? First and foremost Secular Humanists are naturalists. A naturalist believes that nature is all that exists. “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” This was the late Carl Sagan’s opening line on the television series “Cosmos.” Sagan was a noted astronomer and a proud secular humanist. Sagan maintained that the God of the Bible was nonexistent. (Imagine Sagan’s astonishment when he came face to face with his Maker.)

Sagan’s science, in Barton’s view, doesn’t leave enough room for Barton’s religion.  Sagan was outspoken about his opposition to superstition.  Sagan urged reason and the active use of his “Baloney-Detection Kit.” One of Sagan’s later popular books was titled Demon-haunted World:  Science as a candle in the dark.  Sagan argued for the use of reason and science to learn about our world, to use to build a framework for solving the world’s problems.

Barton prefers the dark to any light shed by Sagan, it appears.

More resources on the State Board of Education review of social studies curricula

Texas social studies curriculum panel reports: The Great Texas History Smackdown

July 7, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to take a serious summer vacation, finish the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin, and catch up on a couple of novels . . .

The sharks of education policy are back.

Or the long knives are about to come out (vicious historical reference, of course, but I’m wagering the anti-education folks didn’t catch it).  Pick your metaphor.

Our friend Steve Schafersman sent out an e-mail alert this morning:

The Expert Reviews of the proposed Texas Social Studies curriculum are now available at

http://ritter. tea.state. tx.us/teks/ social/experts. html

Social Studies Expert Reviewers

  • David Barton, President, WallBuilders
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Jesus Francisco de la Teja, Professor and Chair, Department of History, Texas State University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Daniel L. Dreisbach, Professor, American University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Lybeth Hodges, Professor, History, Texas Woman’s University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Jim Kracht, Associate Dean and Professor, College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS
  • Peter Marshall, President, Peter Marshall Ministries
    Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

You can download their review as a pdf file.

Three of these reviewers are legitimate, knowledgeable, and respected academics who undoubtedly did a fair, competent, and professional job. The other three are anti-church- state separation, anti-secular public government, and pseudoscholars and pseudohistorians. I expect their contributions to be biased, unprofessional, and pseudoscholarly. Here are the bad ones:

Barton may be the worst of the three. He founded Wallbuilders to deliberately destroy C-S separation and promote Fundamentalist Christianity in US government. Just about everything he has written is unhistorical and inaccurate. For example, Barton has published numerous “quotes” about C-S separation made by the Founding Fathers that upon investigation turned out to be hoaxes. Here’s what Senator Arlen Specter had to say about Barton:

Probably the best refutation of Barton’s argument simply is to quote his own exegesis of the First Amendment: “Today,” Barton says, “we would best understand the actual context of the First Amendment by saying, ‘Congress shall make no law establishing one Christian denomination as the national denomination. ‘ ” In keeping with Barton’s restated First Amendment, Congress could presumably make a law establishing all Christian denominations as the national religion, and each state could pass a law establishing a particular Christian church as its official religion.

All of this pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.

I am sure these six will participate in a Great Texas History Smackdown before our crazy SBOE. Perhaps this will finally sicken enough citizens that they will finally vote to get rid of the SBOE, either directly or indirectly. Be sure to listen to this hearing on the web audio. Even better, the web video might be working so you can watch the SBOE Carnival Sideshow.

Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science

The non-expert experts were appointed by Don McLeroy before the Texas Senate refused to confirm his temporary chairmanship of the State Board of Education.  The good McLeroy may have done as chairman is interred with his dead chairmanship; the evil he did lives on.  (Under McLeroy and Barton’s reading of history and literature, most students won’t catch the reference for the previous sentence.)

Tony Whitson at Curricublog posted information you need to readTexas Freedom Network’s Insider has a first pass analysis of the crank experts’ analyses — they want to make Texas’s social studies curriculum more sexist, more racist, more anti-Semitic, more anti-working man, and closer to Sunday school pseudo-history.  While Dallas prepares to name a major street in honor of Cesar Chavez, Barton and Marshall say he’s too Mexican and too close to Jews, and so should be de-emphasized in history books (a small picture of Chavez appears on one of the main U.S. history texts now).

That’s the stuff that jumps out at first.  What else will we find when we dig?

More to come; watch those spaces, and this one, too.

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