In their zeal to debunk Big Media types who zealously and inaccurately “debunk” statements made by Republican candidates, conservatives sometimes accept “facts” that are questionable.
One case in point was Donald Trump’s claim that “thousands” of Muslims celebrated 9/11 on the rooftops of buildings in New Jersey:
I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.
I was among those on Twitter who pummelled Glenn Kessler for his sloppy “fact-checking” column that claimed to find absolutely no evidence of any Muslims celebrating in New Jersey. John Hinderaker had some fun pointing out that Kessler had overlooked an article in his own paper to that effect. Kessler proceeded to defend himself on Twitter by serially misquoting the article, adding a small walkback on his original post, and generally looking like a putz caught with his pants down.
Still, does anybody really believe there were “thousands” celebrating in Jersey? I don’t. Hinderaker doesn’t. But I bet you anything there are Trumpzombies out there who believe TRUMP WAS RIGHT!!!
Similarly, Ben Carson said Thomas Jefferson “tried to craft our Constitution in a way that it would control people’s natural tendencies.” At USA Today, David Mastio (who I like a lot) wrote a column that defended Carson, by accurately citing some authority to the effect that Jefferson’s exhortations played some role in the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Among the citations are this from the ACLU:
The American Bill of Rights, inspired by Jefferson and drafted by James Madison, was adopted, and in 1791 the Constitution’s first ten amendments became the law of the land.
And this from the National Archives:
Q. What did Thomas Jefferson have to do with framing the Constitution?
A. Although absent from the Constitutional Convention and during the period of ratification, Jefferson rendered no inconsiderable service to the cause of Constitutional Government, for it was partly through his insistence that the Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten amendments, was adopted.
This is fine as far as it goes, and the statements from the ACLU and the National Archives have some support in reality. Prof. Kevin Gutzman, in his book on James Madison (which I highly recommend) did note that Jefferson said in “several letters” to Madison, written between about December 1787 and December 1788, that a Bill of Rights must be adopted. These letters were written and sent months after the summer of 1787, when the Philadelphia Convention was in session. According to Prof. Gutzman, Madison replied that he liked the idea to the extent that a bill of rights would safeguard liberties, rather than restructure the grant of powers to the federal government from the states. Madison ultimately favored a bill of rights, despite his general skepticism of their necessity, Gutzman writes, because they would allay the concerns of people like Jefferson and George Mason.
(By the way, according to Prof. Gutzman’s book, the Bill of Rights was not considered to be anywhere near as important then as it is today. Indeed, there were those who described it as a “tub to the whale” — an unimportant plaything to distract the Leviathan.)
So far so good. In my view, Mastio went a little overboard with the extent to which he defends Carson, whose point appeared to be far less nuanced and subtle than Carson’s claim that Jefferson “crafted” the Constitution, which he certainly did not.
Here’s the problem: some are running with Mastio’s piece as proof that Thomas Jefferson was, like, totally! behind the drafting of the Constitution, even at the Philadelphia Convention!!1! Rush Limbaugh has taken Mastio’s piece and oversimplified its findings to the point of total inaccuracy and absurdity. Here’s Limbaugh:
But guess what? Ben Carson turned out to be right. Thomas Jefferson did craft the Constitution from France. Jefferson loved France, by the way. He loved going. Jefferson was a big wine connoisseur, among many other things. Perhaps some of you have seen the movie or heard of the movie Jefferson in Paris. He loved it there. But what Politico didn’t know that Ben Carson did know — and they’re running, “Oh, there’s Carson again, boy, making a big fool of himself once again. See, this guy, he’s not in our league. Ben Carson thinks Jefferson wrote the Constitution. Jefferson wasn’t even there. Ben Carson doesn’t even know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
And all of the Drive-By Media critics just launched into poor old Carson, pointing out that Jefferson wasn’t even in America when the Constitution was written. He was in France. What a dope Carson is. How’d this guy ever pass the medical test to be a surgeon? Except this. And credit to USA Today for digging this up.
. . . .
And what they found was that Thomas Jefferson was writing all kinds of letters from France to the Constitutional Convention, and they were sending him letters, and so he was participating in the writing of the Constitution while he was in France with these things called letters that were put on boats that went over the ocean and then to horses in saddlebags where they were delivered to the recipients. It could take months for these things to go back and forth, given the length of time it would take back then to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, if they made it alive. But the point is, Carson was right, and the Drive-Bys mocking him and laughing at him, and making fun of him had no idea Thomas Jefferson was writing these letters.
Yeah, this is totally wrong. Gutzman says on Facebook:
One more time: 1) there is no evidence that Thomas Jefferson had any — any — effect on the “crafting” of the US Constitution, and 2) the Bill of Rights was *not* “his idea.”
1) He was in France in summer 1787, at a time when it took six weeks for a letter to cross the Atlantic to the east and longer to the west. The delegates to the Convention were all sworn to secrecy, so they could not have consulted him even if they had desired to do so and it had been practicable.
2) The first promise to seek a bill of rights was made by Federalists in Massachusetts to get Governor John Hancock and other waverers to support ratification. None of them consulted Jefferson–who was still in France, if anyone in Boston had cared. James Madison was finally persuaded to favor a bill of rights, which he had opposed, by political imperatives in Virginia: the North American Baptist movement happened to be centered in his home county, and local Baptists insisted he promise to seek amendments, particularly one like the Establishment Clause, before they voted for him over James Monroe for Congress. Everyone knew this was his motivation at the time.
While Kessler did too much of a victory dance over Donald Trump, and exaggerated the lack of evidence to support Trump’s claim, Trump was almost certainly wrong to claim there were “thousands” of Muslims celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11.
While Politico did too much of a victory dance over Ben Carson, and exaggerated the lack of a role that Jefferson played in inspiring the Bill of Rights, Carson was not correct to claim Jefferson played a role in “crafting” the Constitution. And Rush Limbaugh has screwed up the analysis beyond all recognition.
Unfortunately, Patterico (and even Gutzman) are nothing compared to Limbaugh’s mis-educating of millions of people on this issue.