What Happens When Glenn Beck's 'The Blaze' Tries to Fact-Check David Barton?

For the last several weeks, The Blaze has been one of the few media outlets dedicating in-depth coverage to the controversy surrounding David Barton's shoddy scholarship.  Given that The Blaze was founded by Barton's BFF Glenn Beck, it is no surprise that most of the coverage of Barton and his work has been, shall we say, rather flattering and one-sided, like when The Blaze ran a piece taking a look at the criticisms that Barton's work has received only to follow it up with a piece and a Skype interview where Barton was allowed to respond unchallenged.

In light of the recent developments regarding Barton's work, The Blaze has once again served as the prime outlet through which Barton has been making his case in the media, though this time The Blaze's Faith Editor Billy Hallowell acknowledged many of the specific criticisms that Barton's work has received, primarily from Warren Throckmorton, and vowed to independently examine "some of the explicit issues" in contention. 

Yesterday, Hallowell finally released "The Blaze’s Extensive Analysis of Their Claims & Thomas Jefferson’s Faith" and the thing that is most remarkable about it is the extent to which Hallowell bends over backwards to avoid having to declare Barton wrong on all accounts.

Hallowell examined four specific issues where Barton and Throckmorton disagree on aspects related to Thomas Jefferson and his faith, and in every instance the documentary evidence supports the claims made by Throckmorton and refutes the claims made by Barton, yet the conclusions reached by The Blaze were consistently presented in a way that avoids labeling Barton's claims as false.

The first issue addressed was "The Jefferson Bible" and what is said about Jefferson's own religious view.  Barton claims Jefferson created it as a tool for use in evangelizing the Native Americans whereas Throckmorton claims Jefferson created it for his personal use, cutting out all the things he didn't believe so as to find the "diamonds in a dunghill."  Barton also claims that for most of his life, Jefferson was a rather orthodox Christian, but Throckmorton says that is not so, and even points out that Jefferson once refused to serve as godfather to a friend's child because he refused to affirm the trinity.

The Blaze's brave conclusion on this question was that "clearly, the two sides are in disagreement on a number of fronts when it comes to the so-called 'Jefferson Bible' and on Jefferson’s faith more generally."

The next issue was whether or not Thomas Jefferson could have freed his slaves, with Barton claiming there were dozens of laws in Virginia that prohibited him from doing so and imposing fines on those who did, whereas Throckmorton pointed out that there were multiple instances of owners freeing slaves and that the "fines" that Barton cites where really only clerk's fees.  It seems pretty obvious that Barton is wrong on this question, but once again The Blaze passed it off as a matter of interpretation:

Part of the debate on this point may be centered upon semantics. While Barton purportedly said that there were essentially fines against releasing slaves, Throckmorton said there was no evidence of this. However, the clerk’s fee, in some peoples’ eyes would be a “fine” of sorts. Still, others would distinguish between a clerk’s fee and a fine.

While Jefferson certainly could have freed his slaves based on the laws of that time, his finances may have been a problem preventing him from doing so. If Barton‘s contentions about Jefferson’s devotion to stopping the institution are accurate, one would assume that, if Jefferson had the means to free the slaves, he would have. On the flip side, if the president was immensely devoted to the cause, opponents like Throckmorton could argue that freeing these men and women should have taken precedence.

The next issue was Jefferson's role is supposedly financing the publication of a Bible.  Barton claims that Jefferson “put up the financial backing” for the printing, while Throckmorton notes that Jefferson merely subscribed to its publication.  But in Barton's view, they are one and the same because "subscribers really are investors." Obviously, the idea that someone who subscribes to a publication can be said to be a "funder" of that publication is nonsense ... but instead of calling Barton out on this, The Blaze once again hedged:

So, here we have a difference between the definitions surrounding “investor” versus “subscriber” (the primary definition of the former word is: “to put (money) to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value”).

Finally, The Blaze took a look at Barton's claim that Jefferson founded the University of Virginia as a Christian university,  a claim which Throckmorton disputes, pointing that there was no chapel on campus and Jefferson declared that "a professorship of theology should have no place in our institution." Throckmorton also noted that Barton, while quoting Jefferson to make this case in his book,  intentionally omitted a line from Jefferson's letter that undemined the very point he was trying to make ... and once again, The Blaze merely shrugged:

But, an omission doesn’t necessarily mean that the meaning of the overall message is debunked, of course. The difference here is over whether the school was planning to formerly align itself with these denominations — or whether it was simply attempting to respect its student body by providing access to numerous faiths.

Then, after demonstrating on in all four cases that the claims put forth by Barton could not be substantiated, The Blaze ended the article by turning to several of Barton's Religious Right allies to defend him:

Mathew D. Staver, vice-president of Liberty University, an evangelical higher educational facility, defended Barton. Aside from saying that he doesn’t put any credibility into “Throckmorton’s self-published ebook” (the book is also available in print, as we’ve noted), he dismissed the professor as “a psychologist [and] not [a] historian.”

“I have never heard him speak or write on Jefferson until now,” he continued,” going on to share some interesting information about his recent interaction with Thomas Nelson:

“I have not had the opportunity to look at all the allegations, but I have looked at some of Throckmorton‘s claims and Barton’s responses. I would put my money on David Barton any day. Herein lies a serious issue for Thomas Nelson. I was asked to review Throckmorton’s arguments, but before I could respond, Thomas Nelson shocked everyone by its knee jerk reaction to criticism by non-experts only two weeks or so after ask[ing] for my response. I am very disappointed in the way Thomas Nelson handled this matter.”

Staver also noted that Dr. Roger Schultz, dean of Liberty’s colleges of arts and sciences and an expert on American history, and Rena Lindevaldsen, associate dean for academic affairs at the university, both back Barton. In speaking of critics, Staver warned that they should “be prepared to eat crow.”

The Rev. James Robison, too, weighed in on the scenario. While not directly placing blame or accusing Barton of inaccuracies, he told TheBlaze about the importance of upholding godly values — and embracing truth. On a grander scale, he discussed the attempt to ongoing attempt by liberals to “minimize the importance of Judeo-Christian principles.”

“We must stand together against the liberal, progressive mind-set that is seeking to destroy what made us great. The bottom line is: Truth matters,” he continued. “We must exalt the truth and always be willing to be corrected by it. It is truth that makes us free, and only truth can keep us free.”

Robison went on to stress the double standard that he believes any and all Americans — and in this case, conservatives and evangelicals — risk falling prey to.

“If we expect our nation’s leaders to respond to truth and correction, each one of us must also be anxious to respond to the standards our founders put in place,” Robison continued. “Those standards corrected many founders who had signed them. I, for one, am anxious to be corrected and directed by God’s truth, which is marching on.”

If The Blaze's handling of these questions was bad, Robison's remarks are even worse considering that it was Robison who was sitting directly across from Barton when Barton falsely declared on his television program that the Constitution directly quotes the Bible "verbatim":

If Robison really believes that "the bottom line is: truth matters," maybe he ought to stop promoting Barton and his falsehoods until Barton starts to demonstrate a willingness to "exalt the truth and ... be corrected by it."

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