GOP’s Favorite Fake Historian Spins The New York Times

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Last week, Mother Jones took a hard look at the words and influence of pseudo-historian David Barton, a Republican activist and minister who’s devoted his life to bringing religion into politics. The separation of church and state, Barton claims, is a perversion of the Founding Fathers’ intention to create a Christian nation.

As we reported, Barton’s enduring popularity among the evangelical community is the secret sauce that endears him to the Republican Party’s heavy hitters, including possible presidential contenders Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. But Barton’s message (among other things, he has said that Jesus would oppose the capital gains tax and the minimum wage; that global warming is “self-correcting”; and that the nation’s homeland security apparatus has been infiltrated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood) is built on a foundation of distortions. Barton is not a student of history, but a manipulator of it.

But today’s front page story on Barton by Erick Eckholm in The New York Times almost makes it sound like there’s a legitimate debate over his view of history. Eckholm makes only fleeting mention of the fact that Barton has zero formal training in history, referring to him only as “self-taught,” and his “research” as merely “disputed” and considered “flawed” by historians.

In lieu of any careful examination of Barton’s record are laudatory passages about Barton’s drive. “Keeping an exhaustive schedule, he is also immersed in the nuts and bolts of politics and maintains a network of 700 anti-abortion state legislators,” Eckholm writes. And there’s this:

It is hard to know when Mr. Barton finds the time to pore over documents and write, let alone ride the horses he keeps on a small ranch. Beyond his hundreds of speeches, he tapes a daily radio program, manages a staff of 25 and keeps in touch with his national network.

“He doesn’t sleep much,” said his wife, Cheryl, who stayed near through an interview and helped him recall key dates in his improbable career.

Meanwhile, Barton’s no spring chicken in the conservative crackpot coop; he’s a formidable political player, the man picked by George W. Bush to sell his message to pastors around the country in 2004. Eckholm notes some of this history, but fails to explore how, as Barton’s political influence has deepened, he has increasingly distorted history (and the bible) to fit GOP talking points. 

If The New York Times isn’t going to take Barton to task, at least Jon Stewart is. Barton appeared on the show last night. Watch a clip below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – David Barton Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

 

And check out Right Wing Watch’s point-by-point take down of the arguments Barton made last night.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.