By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid
July 10, 2001

      When Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis admitted to lying about his military service and liberal credentials, the New York Times ran a story on page one. It was a shock to the liberal establishment. Ellis said he had served in Vietnam during the war when he hadn’t, and he exaggerated his role in the antiwar and civil rights movements. Ellis admitted to distortions and issued an apology. But Herbert Barger, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, says Ellis is guilty of something else that the liberal media don’t want to acknowledge – falsely claiming that DNA proved that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

      A network TV movie was based on this claim, but Barger says, Ellis misrepresented the results of DNA studies of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Hemings. An article in the Nov. 5, 1998, issue of the scientific journal Nature, which Ellis co-authored with Eric S. Lander of M.I.T., stated, "Now, DNA analysis confirms that Jefferson was indeed the father of at least one of Hemings´ children." But that’s not true. There were several Jeffersons, including his younger brother, Randolph, who could have been the father. Barger points out that Ellis also wrote a two-page article in the Nov. 9, 1998, issue of U.S. News & World Report in which he tried to link President Clinton´s sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky with the purported problems of Jefferson. He even stated that the DNA study "seemed impeccably timed to arrive like a comet that had been winging through space for 200 years before landing squarely in the middle of the Clinton impeachment inquiry."

      The linking of Jefferson and Clinton was designed to help Clinton somehow survive as a great president in history despite having disgraced the office by having sex with a White House intern. The argument was that if Jefferson could do it, so could Clinton. But Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky is fact, and Jefferson’s alleged affair with Hemings is not.

      Ellis – the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian – claimed to be ignorant about the Jefferson family tree. Barger adds, "Speaking with me on the phone, Mr. Ellis said, in reference to his Nature article, that he knew nothing of the younger brother of Thomas Jefferson, Randolph, and his five sons, who could have fathered the Hemings children. He also asked why no one had pointed this out before." Nevertheless, the Library of Congress chose Ellis to edit and write a chapter for its recent book, "Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty," in which he states, "A DNA study confirmed that Jefferson most probably fathered a child by Sally Hemings." Once again, Barger notes, Ellis dwells on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair instead of stating facts.

      A new book, "The Jefferson-Hemings Myth, an American Travesty" concludes that, contrary to the way the matter has been portrayed by the media, there is no substantial evidence at all to support the charge that Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Hemings. In fact, the best evidence indicates it never happened.

Like What You Read?

Back To Media Monitor Section

AIM Main Page