Glenn Beck's George Washington Whopper

The Fox host says he held the inaugural address of the famously truthful founding father. Yeah right, says the National Archives.

| Wed Sep. 1, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

During his much-ballyhooed "Restoring Honor" rally on Saturday, Glenn Beck told a whopper involving the founding father who was supposedly unable to tell a lie: George Washington.

Speechifying at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, the controversial Fox News host highlighted the legacy of the nation's first president to drive home his claim that encouraging honesty and integrity was a main aim of the event. Beck even told attendees that "the next George Washington" was "in this crowd. He may be 8 years old, but this is the moment. This is the moment that he dedicates his life, that he sees giants around him. And 25 years from now, he will come not to this stair, but to those stairs. And he can proclaim, 'I have a new dream.'"

Beck also invoked Washington while describing the inspiring experience of visiting famous tourist destinations around the nation's capital. "I have been going to Mt. Vernon," he explained. Holding out his hands for emphasis, he declared with emotion, "I went to the National Archives, and I held the first inaugural address written in his own hand by George Washington."

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It was an eyebrow-raising revelation and certainly an original image: Beck cradling the actual words of the first president. But would the persnickety gatekeepers of the nation's historical legacy at the National Archives allow some talk show bombthrower to put his mitts on a rare (and fragile) artifact? The answer, it turns out, is no way. Beck was not telling the truth.

Beck did receive a special VIP tour of the archives, arranged by an as-yet unidentified member of Congress. During that tour, he did get a peek inside the "legislative vault," which isn't open to ordinary visitors. But Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper insists that Beck didn't lay a finger on any precious documents, much less George Washington’s inaugural address. That would be a major violation of policy. "Those kinds of treasures are only handled by specially trained archival staff," she explains. Cooper acknowledges that someone at the archives did show the document to Beck, but that was the extent of it. Regarding Beck's claim that he held the document, Cooper says that seeing such documents for the first time can be a very emotional experience. "I'm certain it was a figure of speech," she says.

Cooper is being charitable. Beck's whopper gave his speech more heft and rhetorical flourish. It was high patriotic drama. But his fib stands in stark contrast to the point of the rally, which was all about restoring the principles of courage and honor that the nation was founded upon. In fact, one of Beck’s only prescriptions for fixing the country was to "tell the truth."

Moreover, Beck has a history of chiding others for lying and stretching the truth to bolster his own incendiary rhetoric. In April, for instance, the Rev. Jim Wallis wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Beck for suggesting that the term "social justice" was "code" for communism and for encouraging his radio show listeners to flee churches that promote social justice. Beck retorted by quoting the Bible to Wallis: "Thou shalt not lie." Groups like Media Matters soon found clips from Beck's show where he said precisely what Wallis had claimed he did.

Yet getting caught in lies hasn't ever stopped Beck from holding himself up as someone with the honesty of, well, George Washington. He even has his own version of a cherry-tree-chopping tale, which he recounted during a February show in a segment dedicated to the "Lies Politicians Tell."

He told viewers:

When I was a kid, growing up you could get away with just about anything in my house except for lying. You did not want to lie in my house. I'll never forget the day my sister decided to play hooky. My dad worked in the bakery all day, so we never saw him in the light of day. My other sister and I were a little surprised when my dad picked us up and the sun was still out. He said, "Where's your sister? Be careful what you say. Remember, we tell the truth in this family."

He made us both sit in the backseat. At this point, we knew bad things were about to go down. When we finally found my other sister, dad pulled up next to her: "So, how was school?" He kept asking and asking, letting her dig the hole deeper. I think I got only like three spankings in my life. My sisters never got any—until that day. The belt made an appearance.

Just imagine what Papa Beck would have done if she said she had skipped school to hold the Declaration of Independence.