J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

“Most People Don’t Know That”

Politifact rarely ventures into the politics of the eighteenth century, but its editor couldn’t resist one story last week:
Fox News co-host Andrea Tantaros…and other The Five panelists were talking about a new report from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which ranked America only 12th in terms of economic freedom. Tantaros said countries ahead of the United States, like Estonia, are more economically free because they “actually know their history, and they study their history, and they study ours and what we’re doing here.”

Americans, on the other hand, have gotten lazy and complacent, she suggested.

“If you ask most people, they don’t even know why we left England,” she said. “They don’t even know why some guy in Boston got his head blown off because he tried to secretly raise the tax on tea. Most people don’t know that.”
There’s a good reason very few Americans “know that”—because nothing like that ever happened.

Politifact checked with Ben Carp, author of Defiance of the Patriots; Sam Forman, author of Dr. Joseph Warren; and Guy Chet, author of Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in Colonial New England, which is actually about the seventeenth century. All of them confirmed that Tantaros, for all her scolding about American ignorance, was spouting nonsense.

Had Tantaros’s brain melded the Tea Party of 1773 with the Massacre of 1770, in which Samuel Gray was fatally shot in the head? Does she get her history from the Assassin’s Creed 3 videogame, which lets players fight redcoats on a tea ship (shown above)? Or was she just stringing together tough-sounding buzzwords for an uncritical audience?

11 comments:

Joanq said...

What is even worse than her ignorance is that the viewers of Fox believe it since they tend to watch Fox exclusively.

John L. Smith said...

Never let facts get in the way of a great sounding sound bite.

EJWitek said...

Joang may be interested in a very interesting PEW study done in October 2013 which presented this startling conclusion:

"In one finding that may seem counterintuitive in an era of profound political polarization, significant portions of the Fox News and MSNBC audiences spend time watching both channels. More than a third (34%) of those who watch the liberal MSNBC in their homes also tune in to the conservative Fox News Channel. The reverse is true for roughly a quarter (28%) of Fox News viewers. Even larger proportions of Fox News and MSNBC viewers, roughly half, also spend time watching CNN, which tends to be more ideologically balanced in prime time."

I don't see how anyone can make such a sweeping comment about any network's viewers just because some "presenter" said something, historically inaccurate.

Daud Alzayer said...

You could always contend that the Charles Townshend had his head _metaphorically_ blown off. I'm suuure that's what they meant. :D

Eric Smith said...

People will believe what they want to believe. For example, many people still think Sarah Palin said, "I can see Russia from my house." I doubt any of them are these FOX viewers.

J. L. Bell said...

I suspect there were some mornings when Charles Townshend felt like his head had been blown off.

J. L. Bell said...

Here's a P.D.F. download of the study E. J. Witek referred to. Thanks for pointing to that data, Ed.

In the days after the broadcast this posting discussed, I looked for remarks about it, either a correction from the network or responses from regular viewers who had studied the Tea Party and other parts of the American Revolution. I didn't find any Fox viewers complaining. The political sites on the left that picked up the story did so after Politifact.

J. L. Bell said...

Indeed, only the Tina Fey version of Sarah Palin said, “You can see Russia from my house!”

The real Vice Presidential candidate said: “As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.”

I think the fictional version has proved more memorable because it’s grammatically and logically coherent. And shorter.

Historian said...

Despite the clear error in history there is a point to be made about our lack of historical knowledge. A few years ago I asked an acquaintance in the Czech Republic why he was so interested (and very knowledgeable) about WWII. He replied, "Only the people who lost and then got back their freedom know its price." He has a point.

J. L. Bell said...

Despite the claims of Tantaros and the Heritage Foundation, I'm not convinced that (a) Americans are significantly different in the breadth or accuracy of our knowledge of national history compared to most other nations; or (b) that knowledge has a strong connection to civic responsibility, "economic freedom," or whatever other value one favors. If there have been studies in that area, I'd be pleased to see them.

Anonymous said...

I watch FOX and listen to NPR. I'd rather watch BBC America than MSNBC because MSNBC seems to have gone off the deep end, but any attention is better than none, right? Blanket statements should be avoided. Ms. Tantaros commentary is a sad proof to what she was claiming: we are all too unfamiliar with our history.