WaPo’s False Equivalence on Founder Misquotes

“Senators, congressmen and even President Obama have misquoted the Founding Fathers in recent years,” writes Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold in a June 7 piece suggesting that there is a bipartisan trend of misquotation and misrepresentation of historical events. After citing Sarah Palin’s recent botched account of Paul Revere’s revolutionary ride, Fahrenthold implies that historical distortion comes from a variety of political quarters:

But in Washington, nobody should feel too smug, as Palin is hardly the only politician with a habit of helpfully twisting the historical record, accidentally or not, and sometimes with politically handy consequences.

If Fahrenthold means to give the impression that there is no partisan pattern to the way politicians distort history, that’s not what his assembled facts indicate.

The Washington Post reporter cites eight Republicans for “twisting the historical record”: Six–Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.); Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas); Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.); Rep. Marlin A. Stutzman (Ind.); Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.)–are cited for misquoting founders, while two, Palin and Rep. Michelle Bachman (Minn.), are cited for distorting Revolutionary War history.

And Democrats? Fahrenthold cites only Barack Obama, for dropping the words “by their creator” from a speech he gave quoting the Declaration of Independence. (Fahrenthold reports that the White House insists that the president has accurately quoted the passage “countless times.” If he really thinks Obama left out that phrase because he doesn’t like its religious content, I’ve got a scoop for him involving birth certificates.)

So Fahrenthold’s report is little more than false equivalence–an attempt to attribute a fault that resides largely in one political party and movement to both sides of the political aisle. This is particularly clear when taken in context with a long-term conservative campaign to force history to conform to their views on subjects ranging from religion to the economy.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.