… and Thomas Jefferson said, “Shut the hell up!”

Honestly? Can you not at least PRETEND to fact-check?

Honestly? Can you not at least PRETEND to fact-check?

Some days I just want to send out an email to the world, something along the lines of “you might be a moron if …” But then I might have to fight Jeff Foxworthy over it, and that mustache kinda creeps me out. (Not as much as clown magicians … if that’s a thing … but I think you get it.)

The assortment of material that comes in to just about any media entity would probably boggle the mind, full of dubious claims and fake quotes that would make you wonder how the hell anybody at least a little bit sane could possibly believe it. Then again, there appears to be a growing contingent of people who prefer to live far from reality, in a world where only their particular brand of Christianity exists, unbridled greed is good, and only people who agree with them have any power or say at all. (I’m guessing those who don’t are reprogrammed or exterminated … God, now I have the Daleks from the Tom Baker era in my head.)

Day of the Daleks

Day of the Daleks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me be clear: I love dealing with 95-plus percent of the readers and letter writers I talk to. They’re unfailingly polite, often quite funny, and endlessly reasonable (or, if unreasonable, they’re entertainingly so); plus, if they disagree with you, they’ll cite verifiable information to support their case.

The remaining percentage? Well, they’re the very rude and misinformed minority who refuse to believe fact checkers unless they say something they like. They believe everything that drops from Rush Limbaugh’s lips is golden, even if it’s so out of touch with reality and historical facts that his mother would probably come back from the grave to smack him.

President Barack Obama has a discussion with s...

President Barack Obama has a discussion with students during a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in New Orleans, La., Oct. 15, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’re certain that Barack Obama is the Kenyan Muslim Socialist Communist Fascist Anti-Christ intent on taking over the world and probably kicks puppies and takes candy away from babies. They’re the low-information voters they accuse everyone they don’t agree with of being.

Excuse me while I get the 50 pounds of attitude in 18 pounds of fur and claws off me …

OK, now that I can breathe again …
A lot of these people have the tendency to use quotes, most often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, that are just too pithy, too perfect for their point, and sometimes too ridiculous to be true. The man didn’t exactly speak in soundbites (even if one defender of fake quotes seemed to think tape recorders existed in Jefferson’s time).
English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Sec...

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few things T.J. didn’t say:

“Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.” (What? No Cheetos??)


“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” (News flash: He also didn’t say “There’s no I in team.”)


“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” (Yes! Immediately! Wait, what? Perhaps T.J. might have been a motivational speaker a la Matt Foley, minus the van down by the river.)


“If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” (As long as being informed doesn’t mean having the intellectual curiosity to check if T.J. actually said these things.)


“By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt …” (Because when you’re drunk, you won’t care anyway.)


“Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.” (But taking the nation hostage and endangering the world economy to get what you want is patriotic.)


Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of which brings to mind one real quote, this one from Martin Luther King Jr.:

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Thank you, Dr. King, for saying what I couldn’t. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth. Those other guys, though …


2 thoughts on “… and Thomas Jefferson said, “Shut the hell up!”

  1. Hi, Brenda
    I read your column of Dec.12, entitled “You don’t say!” I agree about not repeating false quotes. However, your lead paragraphs do take Limbaugh out of context. Granted he says, “I don’t care if these quotes are made up. I know Obama thinks it”, it really must be taken in context. I don’t ask you to agree with Limbaugh’s politics, or even listen to him, but you surely agree, context is important.

    The transcript is longish, and he acknowledged that an earlier reference to a supposed Time article that was to come out could be false. But with full attribution to Rush, here’s the context:

    RUSH: “So we have to hold out the possibility that this [supposed Times article] is not accurate. However, I have had this happen to me recently. I have had quotes attributed to me that were made up, and when it was pointed out to the media that the quotes were made up, they said, “It doesn’t matter! We know Limbaugh thinks it anyway.” Sort of like Dan Rather said, “I don’t care if these documents are forged. I know that Bush did what he did at the National Guard. I don’t care if the documents are forged.” I don’t care if the Limbaugh quotes are made up. So, I can say, “I don’t care if these quotes are made up. I know Obama thinks it. You know why I know Obama thinks it? Because I’ve heard him say it.” Not about the Constitution, but about the Supreme Court.”

    [Audio of ] OBAMA 2001: “If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples so that, uh, I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and — and order and as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.”

    RUSH: “Now, he’s talking about the Warren Court “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.” So we’ve got a supposed piece from his college thesis at Columbia where he complains that the Constitution didn’t talk about the distribution of wealth. So we know that it’s on his mind. So even if he didn’t say it, I know he thinks it. That’s how it works now in the media. And I do know he thinks it because I just heard what I heard, and so did you…”

    I can’t disagree with his statement, taken in context. His quote was with regard to a specific instance. And I remind myself that he is a talk show host, who often enjoys tweaking liberals with a bit of hyperbole.

    Best regards,
    Larry Anderson


    • Hi, Larry! Thank you for reading the column. Sorry I hadn’t gotten around to answering your email over the last week; I’ve been in a mad rush trying to cram three weeks’ worth of work in a week and a half … it’s lucky I love my job. 🙂

      You make a very valid point: Context is often everything. However, Rush himself (as did many others at that time) took Obama out of context in the Jan. 18, 2001, WBEZ interview, which was rather longish itself. While interpretations may vary, I think it’s pretty plain what he’s saying in the transcript when the full relevant discussion is included, with no need for any pundits to read between the lines:

      OBAMA: Right, and it essentially has never happened. I mean, I think that, you know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order in, as long as I could pay for it, I’d be OK. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

      And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties — says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted.

      And one of the — I think the tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movements became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing, and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. And, in some ways, we still suffer from that.


      GRETCHEN HELFRICH (host): Let’s talk with Karen. Good morning, Karen, you’re on Chicago Public Radio.

      CALLER: Hi. The gentleman made the point that the Warren Court wasn’t terribly radical. My question is with economic changes. My question: Is it too late for that kind of reparative work, economically, and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place?

      HELFRICH: You mean the court?

      CALLER: The courts, or would it be legislation, at this point?

      OBAMA: You know, maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.

      You know, you just said — look at very rare examples wherein, during the desegregation era, the court was willing to, for example, order, you know, changes that cost money to a local school district. And the court was very uncomfortable with it. It was hard to manage, it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.

      You know, the court’s just not very good at it, and politically, it’s just — it’s very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, I think that, although, you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally — you know, I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts — I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it.

      SUSAN BANDES (DePaul University law professor): I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I think it also depends on — much of the time what we see the court doing is ratifying the status quo, and, in fact, the court makes redistributive decisions or distributive decisions all the time —

      OBAMA: Right.

      BANDES: — and it —

      OBAMA: But, but, but —

      BANDES: Let me give you an example, which is that the court considers whether it’s OK to take a program, a federal Medicare program that provides — you know, that recompenses people by insurance for every medical procedure they can have except abortion. And it upholds that —

      OBAMA: Right.

      BANDES: — and says we can except abortion from that. Well, that’s a decision about what kinds of subsidies we’re willing to uphold and what we’re not.

      OBAMA: Although, typically, I mean, the court can certainly be more or less generous in interpreting actions and initiatives that are taken by the legislature, but in the example of, for example, funding of abortions or Medicare and Medicaid, the court’s not initiating those funding streams. I mean, essentially what the court is saying is, at some point, OK, this is a legitimate prohibition or this is not. And I think those are very important battles that have to be fought, and they do have a distributive aspect to them.
      It’s pretty clear to me that Obama’s not bemoaning the fact that the Warren Court didn’t get into the redistribution of wealth. He, in fact, sounded an awful lot like my conservative, matter-of-fact constitutional law professor long, long ago, especially in talking about that vital separation of powers. So, yep, while I acknowledge the entertainment value of Rush, far too many people (of all political stripes) take what they hear or read without checking it out, which just contributes to the poisonous political atmosphere we’re subjected to every day.
      Taking the entire transcript of Rush’s show in context, since he repeated multiple times throughout that particular show that he knows Obama’s thoughts on the issue, I’m quite comfortable maintaining that I didn’t take Rush out of context.
      And Rush’s mind-reading? Still profoundly creepy, just as it would be if it were someone like Bill Maher. Jon Stewart or Craig Ferguson I could probably deal with, though. 😉 What can I say? I like smart and goofy!


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