For more a decade, the religious right’s leading authority on America’s founders and their divine inspiration has been David Barton, a fast-talking Texan with a bachelor’s degree in Christian education and a climate-controlled underground vault stocked with tens of thousands of antique documents, including Bibles, diaries, and correspondence. Barton has turned the study of America’s Christian roots into a lucrative business, hawking books and video sermons, speaking at churches and political confabs, and scoring a fawning New York Times profile and interviews on the Daily Show. He’s got friends in high places: “I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced—at gunpoint no less—to listen to every David Barton message,” Mike Huckabee told an Evangelical audience in March of 2011. “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things,” Newt Gingrich told conservatives in Iowa that same month.
That’s probably because much of what David Barton writes seems to have originated in David Barton’s head.
On Thursday, Barton’s publisher announced that it was recalling Barton’s newest book, The Jefferson Lies, from stores and suspending publication because it had “lost confidence” in the book’s accuracy. That came one day after NPR published a scathing fact-check of Barton’s work, specifically his claim that passages of the Constitution were lifted verbatim from the Bible. NPR’s conclusion: ”We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out.” Likewise, although Barton frequently regales audiences with a story about how Congress commissioned the printing of Bibles in order to promote Christian values among the populace, NPR found that “Congress never published or paid a dime for the 1782 Bible.” Rather, “It was printed and paid for by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken.”