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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 57: The Jefferson Freakouts

The ConWeb just can't deal with the idea that Thomas Jefferson may have fathered a child with one of his slaves. Plus: WorldNetDaily's Ellis Washington embraces a discredited book about Jefferson.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/8/2013

There's something about the idea that Thomas Jefferson may have fathered a child with slave Sally Hemings that just sets off the ConWeb -- it's something they do not like to think about.

This refusal to think about it goes way back:

  • Jane Chastain wrote in a 1999 WorldNetDaily column that the story was being promoted by the "defenders" of then-President Clinton to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, lamenting that "the history that is being rewritten today is shamefully inaccurate."
  • In a 2001 Newsmax column, Neal Boortz complained that the Jefferson-Hemings story "serves the purpose of the revisionists and the civil rights warlords."
  • In 2005, Accuracy in Media's Roger Aronoff seemed to be protesting a bit too much about the Jefferson-Hemings theory, insisting under the headline "Another Smear of Thomas Jefferson" that any claim that Thomas Jefferson hooked up with Hemings is "fake" and a "myth" without offering definitive evidence that he didn't.

The lead freakout-meister, though, is WorldNetDaily's Les Kinsolving, approaching his raging homophobia in sheer freakout level.

In a 2009 White House press briefing, Kinsolving brought up a quote from favorite right-wing bogeyman Jeremiah Wright that "Jefferson had intelligence, but he also had babies by a 15-year-old slave girl. I think judges call that pedophilia," then asked, "President Obama does not believe that his presidential predecessor was a pedophile, does he?” The WND article on Kinsolving's question reference a book that supposedly “destroys the myth that Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with his slave Sally Hemings."

Kinsolving followed this up with a column asserting that the Jefferson-Hemings story is an "unconscionable smear" and a "calumny," that he had asked a "very serious question" at the White House briefing, and that Obama's press secretary "refused to deny that Obama believes that Jefferson was a pedophile."

in a December 2011 column, declaring that the alleged Jefferson-Hemings hookup is "one of the most outrageous libels in American history," then quoted at length from a book on the topic. Kinsolving concluded by calling the story an "unconscionable smear of the third president of our country and author of our Declaration of Independence."

Kinsolving returned to the subject in his Dec. 31 WND column, asserting that Jefferson's "very deep grief" at the death of his wife, "as well as his decision to remain a widower for the rest of his life, surely demonstrates the malicious foolishness of claims that the author of the Declaration of Independence and twice-elected president of the United States would ever have had sex with, and fathered any children with, a slave."

Kinsolving then took issue with a New York Times op-ed on the subject, responding that "there is simply no genetic proof that Thomas Jefferson ever seduced or raped slaves." But the words "rape" and "seduce" appear nowhere in the op-ed, and the author never claimed that Jefferson raped Hemings.

Surely Kinsolving knows that definitive "genetic proof" is impossible given that the question is alleged liaisons that occurred 200 years ago. But there is an undeniable likelihood that Jefferson fathered at least one child with Hemings.

Kinsolving isn't the only ConWeb writer to have recently tackled the subject. A September 2011 Media Research Center Culture & Media Institute article by Matt Philbin portrayed the Jefferson-Hemings theory as something that Jefferson must be "exonerat[ed]" from:

Fact: The man who wrote so eloquently about basic human liberty in the Declaration of Independence was himself a slave owner. Unproven theory: That man had a sexual relationship with one of those slaves and fathered at least one of her children.

If you're a liberal journalist, the fact makes you inclined to believe the theory, and ideology and political necessity take you the rest of the way. At least, that has been the case in reporting on the Jefferson-Hemings historical controversy over the last decade and more.

It will be interesting to see if a new book that goes a long way toward exonerating Thomas Jefferson receives the same kind of breathless coverage as evidence the media cited to condemn him. Or if CBS produces a miniseries to correct the one it made exploiting that evidence.

Speaking of unproven claims, Philbin went on to assert that when DNA testing proved a Jefferson-Hemings hookup of some kind, "Liberal journalists, then desperate for ways to defend President Bill Clinton during his own sordid sex scandal, pounced on the news that a descendent of Hemings shared some of our third president's DNA." Philbin offered only a couple anecdotal quotes to back this up, which falls far short of the vast left-wing conspiracy Philbin claims.

Philbin then referenced "assumptions of Jefferson's guilt" in alleged sexual relations with Hemings, as if it was a crime akin to robbery or murder -- or a crime, period, more than 40 years after anti-miscegenation laws were overturned by the Supreme Court. Philbin, it seems, is still a little squeamish about race-mixing.

* * *

The ConWeb's issues with Jefferson aren't limited to Sally Hemings. Ellis Washington -- whose history of being flamboyantly wrong precedes him -- wrote in a June 8 WorldNetDaily column:

Conservative historian David Barton, in his outstanding new book, “The Jefferson Lies: Exploring the Myths You’ve Always Known About Thomas Jefferson,” has once again presented an opus that shines the light of truth on the lies and propaganda of atheism, progressivism, liberalism, humanism and secular elites who possess a venal hatred for American exceptionalism.

Undermining Washington's insistence that "The Jefferson Lies" is "outstanding," however, is the fact that a couple of weeks earlier, college professor Warren Throckmorton had detailed how Barton's book is replete with falsehoods about Jefferson.

Nevertheless, Washington used his column the following week to again praise Barton's "revelatory" book. He then filled out a series of columns based on what Barton called the "five malpractices of modern history": Deconstructionism, Poststructuralism, Modernism, Minimalism and Academic Collectivism.

Ultimately, in August 2012, Barton's publisher, the Christian-oriented company Thomas Nelson, withdrew "The Jefferson Lies" from sale, concluding that it had "lost confidence in the book's details." Even conservative Christian scholars cast doubt on Barton's work.

Strangely, "The Jefferson Lies" remains on sale at WND's bookstore (albeit at a highly discounted price as of this writing), with no mention of the fact that its publisher has withdrawn the book. Likewise, Washington has made no mention of the controversy over the veracity of the book.

By the way, Barton has claimed that the story about the Jefferson-Hemings affair was a liberal plot by historians to distract from the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal," ignoring the fact that even the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has concluded that an affair was "likely."

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