John Fea

Why is David Barton Ducking Debates About his Work?

Last year, Warren Throckmorton began writing a series of blog posts about the false claims made by David Barton about Thomas Jefferson, which eventually culminated in a new book he co-authored called "Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President."

At the time when Throckmorton was just beginning this undertaking, he was invited to appear on a radio program hosted by Paul Edwards to discuss his work alongside Barton himself, who had initially agreed to appear on the program but then reneged once he learned that he'd actually have to defend his work against someone who could challenge his false claims and set the record straight. Barton eventually agreed to appear on the program but refused to debate Throckmorton directly, insisting that he would only speak with Edwards.

Throckmorton has not been the only one working to debunk Barton's brand of right-wing pseudo-history, as history professor John Fea has also taken on Barton's work in both his book "Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?" as well as on his blog.

Today, Fea reported that he and Barton were invited to appear on a radio program hosted by Jerry Newcombe of Truth in Action Ministries last night to discuss Barton's work ... and once again, when faced with the prospect of having to defend his work against someone capable of setting the record straight, Barton backed out

Newcombe didn't waste any time bringing up David Barton's new book on Thomas Jefferson. He thought that Barton's argument in the book was on the mark and he questioned why I had called him a "pseudo-historian." He reminded me that "pseudo" was a derivative of the Greek word for "liar."

I responded to Newcombe by saying some of the same things I have written about numerous times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. I think Barton's work is problematic for two reasons.

First, he often gets his facts wrong. (On this point I gave a plug for Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter's e-book, Getting Jefferson Right). Newcombe defended Barton by pointing to the numerous "unconfirmed quotations" that Barton put on his website after he was called out by historians. He saw this as a mark of Barton's integrity. I wonder if Barton will do the same thing about some of his factual inaccuracies and misleading interpretations in The Jefferson Lies.

Second, Barton misrepresents the past by manipulating it for his own partisan political views. Historians need to be somewhat removed from the political process so that they can interpret the past in a disinterested and nonpartisan way. If they get too broiled in promoting causes they lose some of their integrity as historians.

...

I was originally supposed to appear on the show with David Barton, but Barton backed out.

UPDATE: Fea clarifies that Barton was not necessarily scheduled to be on at the same time as him, but rather later in the program:

I think I should clarify. I was never scheduled to be on the Newcombe show AT THE SAME TIME as Barton. He was going to follow me. In other words, we were never scheduled to be on the air together. All I know is that I was contacted by a publicist (who was contacted by Newcombe) who asked me to appear on the show. I was told that Barton would be on the air following my interview with Newcombe. Then a day or two later I was told that Barton would not be on the show. I should say that this has happened more than once. Draw your own conclusions.

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