Nov 14 2011

Why is the Banning of O’Reilly’s Lincoln Book Making Headlines?

This is sort of pissing me off. OK, so Bill O’Reilly’s new book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln contains a bunch of historical inaccuracies, and the National Parks Service has banned its sale in the Ford’s Theatre bookstore.

O’Reilly’s book does contain a lot of inaccuracies that are clearly due to poor scholarship and shoddy research — like being off a year on the date Ford’s Theatre burnt down, getting it wrong on what the theater was called at the time, being a few feet off on the exact distance between things inside the theater, and calling the president’s office in the White House the Oval Office when the Oval Office did not yet exist at the time of Lincoln.

Obviously, the decision not to sell a book that’s historically inaccurate at the Ford’s Theatre bookstore isn’t what’s pissing me off. It’s the attention being given to this story. Why is this headline news while the continual, deliberate, and dangerous historical revisionism coming from Christian nationalists like David Barton rarely even registers a blip on the radar screen.

Barton’s historical revisionism is actually influencing education, legislation, and voters, making it far more important to pay attention to than O’Reilly’s Lincoln book. But Barton’s deliberate revisionism and its very real and tangible effects in furthering the far right, theocratic, Christian nationalist agenda doesn’t get a fraction of the attention that Bill O’Reilly’s inconsequential vocabulary errors like saying someone “furls his brow” rather than “furrows his brow” are getting. There’s something very wrong with this.


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  1. 1

    Yeah, I read the criticism with some disbelief. Not that I’m opposed to historical accuracy; people have complained about my nitpicking in the past, and a two-day inaccuracy can reverse cause and effect (as is the case with some accounts of the opening of the Rogue River wars in Oregon). But really–a two-foot discrepancy in the distance between the stage and the president’s box, or whatever it was? Late 1862 for 1863 for the burning of Ford’s theater? Shoddy, sure, but these are things that can be fixed by the next printing of the book, unlike David Barton’s inaccuracies, which undermine his entire premise. And, as you point out, have serious consequences. (The often-repeated notion that the concept of church-state separation doesn’t appear in the Constitution comes to mind here.) I tend to feel that historical inaccuracies (particularly when deliberately fostered) are bad even without consequences. Does it really matter to anybody (except maybe the people of Stratford-upon-Avon) whether Edward de Vere or William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and The Tempest? But I still think it’s important to slap down such evidence-free hogwash in no uncertain terms.

  2. 2

    The title had me thinking this was about an O’Reilly Media book, which has nothing to do with Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media primarily makes technical textbooks, a lot of which are for programming/scripting languages).

    I wouldn’t even call this a “ban” on a book, it’s a refusal to stock/sell an inferior product. Want to be “unbanned”? Fix the inaccuracies.

  3. 3

    So, I guess that this is O’Reilly’s most accurate book, by far.

  4. 4

    I agree with sithrazer. One bookstore’s decision does not a ban make. The use of the word “ban” is just to sensationalize.

    Bill O’Reilly”s use of the word “furl” instead of “furrow” is a defining characteristic of the genera of amateurish scholarship. It is a source of pride for these people, like using “there” instead of “their”.

  5. 5
    Chris Rodda

    The word “banned” is what’s being used by others in their headlines to sensationalize the story, which is what I’m talking about — the big deal being made over this story, while the historical revisionists like David Barton, who are doing real damage, go unnoticed.

  6. 6

    What makes this story truly incredible is that this is the same National Park Service that has, to the best of my knowledge, refused to stop the sale of the creationist screed “The Grand Canyon, A Different View” at that national park. If they are so concerned about historical accuracy, why are they allowing the sale of a collection of creation myths at a government facility? Most people have forgotten about this controversy, which bubbled-up in 2003, and led to the Park Service promising to do a “review” which has so far not been done.

    “Different View” describes how the canyon was formed in a few hours as a result of the Noahan flood about 4,000 years ago, and last I knew it is prominently displayed in canyon gift shops. Interestingly enough, it was the only book added to the inventory in 2003.

  7. 7

    Lincoln goes in
    Booth comes out
    You can’t explain that!

  8. 8

    Is anyone familiar enough with Newt Gingrich’s books to comment on their accuracy? I sure can’t tell from the reviews on Amazon. Don’t worry, I wasn’t gonna buy them, but I might check them out at the library.

  9. 9

    I assume that O’Reilly’s celebrity has a lot to do with it. While Barton is, of course, well-known to those who have had to do battle with him (and to the fans of those noble Soldiers of Reason), and while he has an unfortunate influence on policy makers and others, to the mass public, his name’s probably an enigma. Even if they see him on some talking-head cable news show, it’s more likely they’ll remember that there was “some guy on that show on CNN who said…”.

  10. 10
    Francisco Bacopa

    David Barton does not go unnoticed in Texas. Even though we have had little success getting real experienced educators onto the SBOE, the Republican controlled legislature did put some constraints on SBOE last session.

    Yeah, somehow Perry beat Bill White, warrior against hurricanes, but we are making progress here in Texas. Texas really should be blue. It’s hugely majority urban and pays more in taxes than it receives in federal payouts, just like the blue states.

    What we really need is an an amendment for direct election of the president. More Texans voted for Obama than in the seven smallest states Obama carried. Obama, Kerry, Gore, and Clinton were sure glad to come here and take our money, but they gave us nothing in return. In popular voting terms, a losing vote in Texas can get you more than wins in 5-7 low population states.

  11. 11

    If anyone wants his tome, just go down to the local bookstore and check the science fiction section, with the rest of the alternate reality novels. Some can be rather interesting.

  12. 12
    Filthy Pazuzu

    It’s simple. Pointing out a few rather simple errors and mentioning a “banned” book is quick & easy, and O’Reilly has that name recognition that headlines love. Getting into a discussion about who David Barton is, what he does, and what effect it has on things such as education & public policy takes too much time.

    Plus, most journalists would rather cut out their tongues than disagree with Christian evangelicals. They couldn’t possibly say Thomas Jefferson was about as Christian as my cat.

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