Editor’s Note: By being careless and sloppy in background research, that is. But then again entertainers cannot be trusted to be consistent, serious radicals, even when, like Stewart, they hold the conceit they’re far more radical than they truly are. The only reason Stewart & Co. thrive in the present clime is because of the scandalously bad state of real politics and the complete bankruptcy of the media. In this landscape, their barbs acquire a stature and resonance way beyond their importance or sagacity. Like tears in a desert.—PG
By Bob W Ryley
Jon Stewart blew a chance to put a phony right wing “historian” in his place.
Progressives who watch the nightly Daily Show on Comedy Central generally enjoy Jon Stewart’s caustic comments about right wing hypocrisy. Most progressives also know Jon is not shy about pointing out that some liberal and progressive politicians too, are often guilty of doing one thing and saying another.
Of course, the right wing thinks of Stewart as just one of those left wing entertainers who hates America and is fully determined to impose “Hollywood” values of being soft on terrorists, aggressive in promoting the hated homosexual agenda, and generally being too secular in his world-view.
Amidst the various perceptions of his own views, I find it surprising that every now and then Stewart puts on far right-wing guests and then folds like a cheap suit when it comes to challenging their outright lies. An example of this occurred when right wing author and self-proclaimed “church and state” scholar Thomas Barton appeared as a guest on Comedy Central.
Barton is a power player in efforts to break down traditional understandings of church and state. He is clearly devoted to rewriting the intentions of our founders in striking a balance between everyone’s right to practice their religion of choice, while keeping the government out of the role of playing favorites. Barton has written a book about Thomas Jefferson intended to convince us that Jefferson really wanted the bible taught in schools and that he did not have issues with organized religion. A quick on-line search of both Jefferson and Barton will result in sufficient links to expose Barton’s ongoing cycle of distorting what Jefferson and other founders really believed.
What interested me more was Barton’s remarks about a five year old St. Louis elementary school student. According to Barton, a teacher “picked up” the kid from his seat while he was praying (to himself) before eating his lunch. He goes on to say that the school disciplined the student for praying in this manner. He describes the incident has an example of public school officials preventing even a private prayer before a meal. You can see Barton’s comment about the 5:25 into the embedded video.
Prior to watching this I never heard of Barton. I did a little checking. It turns out that Barton’s version of the story is missing some relevant facts. The attorney for the school board stated that the student was disciplined not for praying but for fighting in the cafeteria. You also should know that a member of the school district’s Board of Education was a Baptist Minister who subsequently stated that student was not disciplined in any way for praying. Hard to believe a school district with a clergyman on the school board would be blocking purely private prayer or meditation.
In researching this I found over 175 references to this specific incident. You can do it yourself by searching Raymond Raines, the student on whose behalf a lawsuit was filed against the school district. What struck me most was the viral way in which the false version of this story was repeated on literally dozens of right-wing, evangelical, even libertarian web sites. It was routinely portrayed as an example of the ongoing “war on Christianity.”
The surprising part is that Stewart was so ill-prepared. He seemed clueless in knowing that his guest is wildly regarded outside of evangelical circles as a historical snake-oil salesman. That I find surprising and scary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A political news junkie, formerly active in local politics in New Jersey and at one point employed as Aide To The Mayor of a central NJ community of 50,000. Currently writing a manual about Opposition Research for use by grassroots progressive campaigns and candidates. Always available for consulting assignments on behalf of progressive candidates and causes.
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