The controversy over Texas evangelist David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, is not yet over.
This week, online bookseller Amazon quietly amended the name of the publisher listed for The Jefferson Lies from Barton’s WallBuilder Press to Thomas Nelson. This was after Chris Rodda, a leading critic of Barton’s account of American history alerted Amazon that the book being sold on Amazon as a WallBuilder’s publication was the same version that was published and distributed by Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson had announced in August that it was dropping the book because it “lost confidence in the book’s details." The Jefferson Lies had reached the New York Times' best seller list, prompting conservatives and liberals alike to take notice of Thomas Nelson's announcement.
Background: A Tale of Publishers.
Thomas Nelson’s decision to drop the book came on the heels of a blistering review of Barton’s work on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and after a group of pastors and religious leaders in Cincinnati, OH, threatened to boycott the influential Christian book publisher over Barton’s book.
When news of Thomas Nelson’s decision blanketed the media, Barton issued a statement declaring that “… while Thomas Nelson may have ‘lost confidence’ in the work, others have not and thus the book has already been picked up by a much larger national publisher and distributor. Even at the time Nelson dropped the work, they admitted that it was still selling very well.”
About a week later, it appeared that conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink was the “much larger national publisher” that would be picking the book up. Lynn Garrett at Publisher’s Weekly reported,
David Barton […] is in negotiations to publish a new edition of the book with Mercury Ink, Glenn Beck’s publishing arm. Barton told PW he bought back around 17,000 copies of the current edition and will sell out of those before the publication of the new edition. He said Nelson would not give him the digital version: “They just pulled that down, and we are going to have to reconvert it if we want to sell an e-book” of the current edition; he added he has not yet decided whether to do that. “It depends on how quickly we think we can get the new edition out.”
Barton said the new edition "will not include any substantive changes, but I will rephrase some things to remove any potential confusion.” He also plans to add back some of the content Nelson cut in their editing process, and that in the process of reviewing the accusations made by his critics, “I have actually run across more supporting documents that strengthen my case, not weaken it.”
Researcher Discovers Inaccuracy on Amazon.
From the time that Thomas Nelson stopped carrying the book until mid-November, Jefferson Lies was not available on Amazon except through third party vendors. "The difference is that it was not Amazon directly selling the item but other vendors were selling it,” Rodda explained to GodDiscussion. "When Thomas Nelson pulled the book, Amazon no longer processed the orders but cited third parties that provided it."
Rodda, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s senior research director, is a popular blogger at The Huffington Post, Freethought Blogs, Talk2Action and other outlets, and is the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History and Debunking David Barton's Jefferson Lies: #2 – Jefferson Founded a Secular University. Because of the nature of her work and her attention to detail, Rodda takes note of things like names of publishers.
On Nov. 14, Rodda noticed that Barton's The Jefferson Lies was available again for sale directly from Amazon and not the third party vendors. The publisher listed for the book, however, was not Mercury Inc. It was Barton's WallBuilder Press.
The ISBN numbers furnished for the book were the same as those appearing on the Thomas Nelson version of the book. A new edition or publisher generally would obtain a new ISBN number; however, if an author gets the publishing rights back, the original publisher’s ISBN can be assigned.
“I watched Barton promise on Glenn Beck’s Internet television show that a new edition of his book would be published that would contain 20,000 words of source material that he said was edited out by Thomas Nelson. Because of that, I ordered a copy of the book that was listed as being published by WallBuilder Press,” Rodda told GodDiscussion. “I then compared this edition that was supposedly published by WallBuilder Press to the Thomas Nelson edition that I had purchased when the book was first released in April. I found the two books to be identical. The typos aren’t even fixed. The copyright page of the book that I purchased in November still says ‘Thomas Nelson.’ This is the same book. There's no doubt it's one of the 17,000 copies of the original edition that Barton bought back from Thomas Nelson.”
Rodda alerted Amazon of the discrepancy, sending a screenshot of the book's copyright page. "The edition of this book currently being sold on Amazon is the same Thomas Nelson edition that was pulled by the publisher in August. It is NOT published by WallBuilder Press as the Amazon page incorrectly states," she explained.
Rodda received an response from Amazon on Dec. 26, thanking her for "taking the time to submit a correction and helping us keep our catalog accurate" and stating that her suggestions were accepted.
Rodda discovered that on the same day as the email, Amazon changed the listing to show that the book being marketed by Barton is published by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson was acquired by HarperCollins this fall.
Amazon visitors who view The Jefferson Lies sales page now see that the listed publisher is Thomas Nelson, not WallBuilder Press.
Paragraph 20 of Amazon’s Participation Agreement that governs vendors' ability to sell products on Amazon states, “You represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content you submit to Amazon and its affiliates, and that the use of such materials by Amazon and its affiliates will not infringe upon or violate the rights of any third party.” Since Mr. Barton has purchased 17,000 copies of his book from Thomas Nelson, he presumably has the right to sell those books on Amazon, but it is unclear why the book was re-listed with WallBuilder Press as the publisher before being corrected to Thomas Nelson, thanks to Rodda’s efforts in pointing out the discrepancy to Amazon.
The revised listing has excited some buyers into thinking that they are purchasing a collector’s item. An Amazon reviewer named James Thomas, for instance, wrote on Dec. 27, a day after the publisher name was updated, “Even better is the fact that the publisher recalled it and I have one that not many other people have.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which represents over 30,000 service men and women (96 percent of whom are Christians), took notice of Rodda’s work concerning David Barton and hired her five years ago. Mikey Weinstein, the Foundation’s president and founder, published a video on YouTube this summer thanking Barton for his role in MRFF’s discovery and subsequent hiring of Rodda: