August 10th, 2012
05:15 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi and Dan Gilgoff, CNN
(CNN)–A best-selling book is getting boxed up and returned to the publisher after complaints of historical inaccuracies.
Publisher Thomas Nelson has withdrawn 'The Jefferson Lies" after a lengthy review found the author, David Barton, had included "historical details that were not adequately supported," said Brian Hampton, a senior vice president and publisher for Thomas Nelson.
Hampton said the move was "extremely rare" and he could not recall a time in the publisher's history when it had recalled a book in this manner. "We’re disappointed for everyone concerned," Hampton said.
Barton is the founder and president of the Texas-based WallBuilders, a group that describes itself as "dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined," according to its website.
"The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson," was published in April. In it Barton attempted to dispel the popular notion that Thomas Jefferson was a secular politician who pioneered the idea of strict church-state separation.
It was Barton's first book with Thomas Nelson and was released to great expectations. By May 13, 2012, the book landed on The New York Times Best-Sellers list.
But even before the book was published, Hampton said Thomas Nelson began receiving complaints.
"First concerns came our way from people who hadn’t read the book," he said. The publisher thought the complaints were from people on the opposite ideological spectrum from Barton, a conservative political star who has long billed himself as an evangelical historian.
"We still took them seriously and began a review process," Hampton said. Despite the complaints, the book still went to press.
As Thomas Nelson was conducting its own review, so were academics.
Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology, and Michael Coulter a political science professor, both at Grove City College, a conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, were also conducting their own review. They published their own e-book that fact checked Barton called "Getting Jefferson Right."
Barton had written off other critics as "liberal elites," but this was a searing attack from within the evangelical community.
Hampton said there was no outside tipping point for the publisher.
“We were monitoring everything that was happening out there,” he said.
He said concerns were expressed about the book from a variety of sources. “What was most compelling to us was engaging with the manuscript.”
“The first thing we did was go back to the book and see what was a matter of opinion or analysis,” Hampton said.
After the internal review of Barton's book, Hampton said, “We became convinced there were parts of the book that were not historically supported.”
“Both withdrawing it from the marketplace and reverting the rights back to him seemed like the best thing for us to do,” he said.
Barton told Bob Smietana, a religion reporter for the Tennessean, a Nashville-based newspaper, “All I got was an e-mail saying it was canceled,” he said. “It was a complete surprise.”
In a statement issued by WallBuilders late Friday night Barton said, “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.”
A representative for WallBuilders would not name the new publisher, suggesting the details were not final and the final word would come through their website once those details could be worked out.
Barton’s statement pushed back hard against Thomas Nelson’s review of his material.
“We find it regrettable that Thomas Nelson never contacted us with even one specific area of concern before curtly notifying us they had dropped the work. Had they done so, we would have been happy to provide them with the thorough and extensive historical documentation for any question or issue they raised; they never asked,” the statement continuted.
“The Jefferson Lies has not been pulled from publication and it will continue to sell nationally,” it concluded.
The book is still available through Barton’s website. Amazon.com was no longer carrying the book on Friday through its regular processes, instead was directing customers to used booksellers who carried the book.
Barton told the Tennessean he thought some of Throckmorton's critiques were off base.
“This is one of the cases where he is just nuts,” Barton told the Nashville paper.
Barton wears a variety of hats in Republican and conservative circles. He is a former top official in the Texas GOP and a sometimes consultant with the Republican National Committee, a behind-the-scenes political operative who advises presidential candidates and coordinates trips to Israel for the likes of Glenn Beck, and a prolific author, speaker and Washington tour guide on the evangelical circuit.
Beck wrote the forward to 'The Jefferson Lies."
Barton and his work were also featured prominently in former "Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron’s movie “Monumental,” about the role of religion in American history.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.