Anatomy of an American Book Banning

Anatomy of an American Book Banning


By Michael Thompson

It’s unlikely there has ever been another New York Times bestselling history book pulled from the shelves of retailers nationwide because of political correctness.

But that’s what happened to David Barton’s Jefferson Lies three years ago after the manuscript had been carefully fact-checked by one of the largest publishers in the world, backed by hard-copy documentation verifying each quote, footnote and claim.

After catapulting to the most coveted of all bestsellers lists, it was summarily spiked by the publisher after expected criticism by some who disagreed with its basic premise.

This is the story of how that happened and why the book is now back in print.

The anatomy of a smear

David Barton contracted with internationally known publisher Thomas Nelson, then the largest Christian publisher in the world, to write The Jefferson Lies in 2011. After publication in April 2012, the book almost instantly became a bestseller, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list by May 13.

But on Aug. 9, 2012, Thomas Nelson said in a curt email to Barton it had “lost confidence in the book’s details” and withdrew it from publication, recalling tens of thousands of copies from retailers nationwide. Thomas Nelson’s vice president and publisher called such a step “extremely rare” and unprecedented in his own experience.

Interestingly, only a few weeks before the book was dropped, HarperCollins completed a long-delayed takeover of Thomas Nelson. The president of the newly created Christian publishing division, created by combining Thomas Nelson and the previously acquired Zondervan, stated everything about the business was suddenly “under review.” It was in this context reports began circulating of “conservatives” attacking The Jefferson Lies.

Thomas Nelson did not contact Barton about verifying any single fact in contention. Barton actually first learned the book had been pulled after a reporter called him about it, and his publisher never confronted him about supposed faults in the book.

However, there was an obvious question – if Thomas Nelson thought The Jefferson Lies was worth publishing only weeks before, what changed?

While self-defined progressive critics had been hostile to Barton and his work from the beginning, The Jefferson Lies aroused opposition from some ostensible Christian “conservatives.” As a progressive writer in the Atlantic sneered, “The truly good news about Barton’s recent setback is that it has come from his own side.” Next came the Christian magazine World admitting on Aug. 16, 2012: “Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies.” Thus, Thomas Nelson thought it was facing a rebellion from inside conservative ranks. But was this true?

Who are the critics?

The first attack came from Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, who made headlines by charging 10 conservative Christian professors reviewed Barton’s work and assessed it negatively. But only four actually provided written responses to Barton’s work. Of those, only one specializes in religion and the American founding – and his critique did not even address the book, but a video called “America’s Godly Heritage.”

Another Christian group widely promoted as leading opposition to the book was a group of ministers near Cincinnati, Ohio. However, the group known as Cincinnati Area Pastors’ opposition was not driven by concern Barton was overstating the case for Jefferson’s Christianity or was somehow discrediting conservatives, but by the organization’s contention Thomas Jefferson, in President Ray McMillian’s words, “hated African-Americans.” The group’s president is credited with organizing the group to “address the racist heritage of our country and founding fathers.” This is precisely one of the “lies” Barton debunks in his book.

CAP’s Facebook group, largely inactive since 2013, was concerned with organizing another tone-policing campaign, this one against a group called the Institute on the Constitution, urging the National Religious Broadcasters to drop their partnership with the group. The only person seemingly supporting this campaign on the Facebook page was Warren Throckmorton.

Throckmorton is Barton’s most consistent critic. He is not a historian, but a professor of psychology at Grove City College. Along with his colleague, Michael Coulter, a professor of humanities and political science at the same school, Throckmorton penned “Getting Jefferson Right,” an attempted takedown of The Jefferson Lies, which appeared about a month before Thomas Nelson pulled the book.

Though a professor at a conservative school, a past contributor to National Review and a self-defined “traditional evangelical,” Throckmorton’s conduct over the past few years reveals a relentlessly negative approach toward and borderline obsession with Christian conservatives.

Throckmorton has endorsed the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center’s call for the American Family Association to be considered a hate group characterized with the likes of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. He has described conservative pro-family groups such as the American Family Association, Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Liberty Counsel as an “evangelical culture war complex” only interested in the commandment, “thou shalt demonize the gays.” He has even condemned former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his participation in “The Response” prayer gathering.

This hostility to evangelicals is surprising as Throckmorton was once seen as a key authority in the effort to help homosexuals refrain from same-sex sexual activity through counseling. He produceda documentary, “I Do Exist,” which showed change is possible for homosexuals. He was also critical when the American Psychiatric Convention canceled a dialogue on the role of religion in homosexuality at its convention.

However, Throckmorton seems to have reversed his position on homosexuality. He now says he “regrets” the video was used “as a part in the culture war surrounding homosexuality.” Furthermore, he says, “I now believe durable change in basic attractions is very infrequent.”According to the Sexual Identity Therapy he created, “The emergence of a gay identity for persons struggling with religious conflicts is a possibility envisioned by the recommendations.” Throckmorton has also affirmed that accepting one’s homosexuality can be “healthy.”

Finally, Throckmorton has attacked the “Day of Truth,” the Christian response to the “Day of Silence” created by homosexual activists. He has even gone so far as to republish a post from the ACLU referring students to the Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network, a homosexual activist group Throckmorton had previously accused of offering “spin” on the issue of whether schoolchildren should be indoctrinated to support same-sex marriage.

Throckmorton is now a contributor at Salon and the Huffington Post, a site he characterized as “far left” as recently as 2008. He’s also a regular source for Americans United for Church and State and “Right Wing Watch.”

Throckmorton has protested attempts to call attention to this record, mocking the idea “as if what team he thinks I am on matters.” However, as it was the opposition of supposed conservatives that observers largely credited for the demise of The Jefferson Lies, Throckmorton’s “team” is highly relevant, especially when his sole professional focus at this point seems to be attacking Christian conservatives.

More importantly, it appears such “conservative” criticism was the key factor in getting Thomas Nelson to pull the book.

“But the testimony of unqualified critics, far-left ministers crusading against the Founding Fathers, and a former conservative looking to make a name for himself in the liberal press are hardly credible,” said Joseph Farah, founder and chief executive officer of WND and WND Books, the new publisher of The Jefferson Lies.

In its own way, The Jefferson Lies made history – the first book of its kind to be victimized by the scourge of “political correctness.”

The new edition of The Jefferson Lies contains a preface dismantling the claims of Throckmorton and other critics.

“Throckmorton is just wrong – on many, many fronts,” Barton told WND. Recalling the takedown attempt, Barton is eager for the chance Thomas Nelson denied him by meeting his critics’ charges directly. And he’s grateful the American public won’t be deprived of the opportunity to read the book that sparked the biggest scandal in publishing history.

He told WND: “Many in academia today openly proclaim their disdain for traditional American ideals and heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, routinely twisting his words to suit their own agendas. This is what happened four years ago. But through the new release of The Jefferson Lies, Americans will not only meet the unfiltered Jefferson as he speaks clearly for himself on a variety of issues, but they will also understand why he was so proudly esteemed by Americans for literally centuries, until trashed by modern professors and critics. I am thrilled that his wisdom and insight will once again be available to today’s citizens, for it is needed now more than ever.”

Farah added: “Think about all the books that are published every year in America – many tens of thousands. Only one book that I know of in my lifetime has been censored by its own publisher after becoming a bestseller. Only one history book was so banned in the United States, to my knowledge – pulled from the shelves to ensure Americans couldn’t read it and make up their own minds about it. Many books published in America as non-fiction are made up out of whole cloth – and that includes history books with the most preposterous speculation and fantasies. In a free society, that is to be expected. What should never be expected is that controversial books with premises some might disagree with should be banned, spiked, burned or shredded. That’s exactly what happened to this book. And that’s why WND Books is bringing it back into the marketplace.

Category: Education

NEXT up in Education