David Barton in the News: Remember His Earned Doctorate and Division One Basketball Stardom?

Self-styled historian David Barton is in the news calling State Department officials “clowns” while he and Glenn Beck claim to rescue people in Afghanistan. Ministry Watch issued an appropriate “close look” at Beck and Barton’s charity — the Nazarene Fund — since it is unclear what they are doing in the midst of this disaster.

I am not an apologist for the Biden Administration’s handling of the end of the American military presence in Afghanistan. However, if David Barton makes a claim, my experience is that it should be checked out. Here are at least two reasons why.

Unearned Doctorate

Almost 5 years ago now, David Barton released the following video on his Facebook and Youtube accounts:

In this video, Barton very clearly claims to have an earned doctorate while, at the same time, he covers it up and fails to say where he got it. THe day after I saw the video, I discovered the “degree” came from church based LIfe Christian University. The school doesn’t offer history or education degrees and isn’t accredited by any recognized agency. It is registered with the IRS as a church and has no campus. Furthermore, Barton never attended any classes nor did he do any specific work for the so-called “earned” degree.” The president of the school just gave him a degree, perhaps for a fee, although that much was not revealed.

When I posted this information, Barton removed the video from his websites and stopped referring to himself as “doctor.” He never mentioned it again and has refused to ever explain or apologize for the deception. To their discredit, no Christian news outlet has ever pursued him and demanded answers about why he castigated progressives for making up stories, when he spun the yarn.

There are so many more reasons to be skeptical but here is just one more.

David Barton’s Division One Airball

IN 2015, David Barton told a seminar audience that he played basketball with the Oral Robert University Division One basketball squad when he attended the school as a student:

The main claim was:

I remember when I was playing basketball, the college stuff that we did. We started every day with a five mile run, then we lifted weights, then we had an hour of racquetball, then we had two hours of full-court basketball, then we came back for another run. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but in those years, our college team set the NCAA record for two years in a row for most points scored. We averaged 105, 104, 103 points a game, I forget what it was. But you had to run a lot, it wasn’t a lot of fun, but you get the results.

As it turns out, Barton did not play for the D-1 team at Oral Roberts.

This was confirmed by the NCAA and school records, calls to the university, and the testimonies of the head trainer and a sports reporter for the school paper at the time. He simply didn’t play on the team but told a story that made it sound like he did.

If a man can weave together those kind of stories about himself, shouldn’t we demand a much higher level of verification before we accept what he says about other things?

David Barton Contradicts Oral Roberts on ORU's Basketball Program

Yesterday on his Wallbuilders Live show, David Barton said the sports program at Oral Roberts University in the 1970s was “where the drug culture was” and was filled with sexual promiscuity and illegal activities.  Listen again to his defamation of the ORU basketball program in the 1970s.

In an earlier part of the show, Oklahoma Wesleyan University president Everett Piper said the sports programs should be aligned with the rest of the college mission. In response, at 34 seconds into the above segment, David Barton began talking about “the school I attended.” Barton attended Oral Roberts University and said his program was different than Piper’s.
Transcript (starting at 34 seconds)

But the school where I attended, when I attended there that was not their thing. Their thing was to have the best program ever. So even though I went to a religious school, it was not about faith and character, it was about how high you were in the nation. So in basketball, talking before with the team there and what we did, and we made it to the Elite Eight in the tournament, but the character was so bad that, that’s a period I remember very clearly in my experience because in outing some things that were going on in the basketball team, that was where the drug culture was, that was where it was really promiscuous, that’s where a lot of illegal stuff, and outing that I ended getting death threats and I had to have cops carry me from class to class across campus because of the death threats on a Christian university, for outing things that violated the honor code that we all signed to go to the university.

These claims were denied by Glenn “Smitty” Smith, head athletic trainer at ORU who came to the school in 1972 (the same year Barton did). Smith said he did the drug testing and no one in that era failed. Barton’s rant also is contradicted by news reports from that era which quote Oral Roberts about the basketball program. Roberts had the same stated values and goals as Everett Piper. From the NYT, 12/5/71, page 9:
oru basketball screen
A 1972 NYT article points out that most of the basketball team was African-American and occasionally complained about the religious zeal of other students. However, there was no description of a different behavioral standard for the team.
A 1973 article addressed both the code of conduct and the racial differences.
ORU Basketball screen 2
I fully understand that Roberts assessment might not have been accurate but I can’t find any evidence of what Barton claimed either, especially as school policy.

David Barton and Oral Roberts University Basketball in the 1970s – That’s Where the Drug Culture Was (UPDATED)

In 2015, David Barton claimed that he was a part of the Oral Roberts University NCAA Division One basketball teams which set national scoring records in the 1970s. He has never publicly addressed the fact that ORU’s athletic department and the team trainer at the time contradicted his story and said he was not on the team. Today, on his Wallbuilders Live show, he again implied he was a part of the basketball team and made additional claims about the drug culture in the sports programs at ORU. Listen:

At 17 seconds into the clip above, Barton talks about the sports programs and then slams ORU’s program at the time. He seems to refer to his earlier comments (“In basketball, talking before with the team there and what we did, and we made it to the Elite Eight in the tournament”) and then says that the character of the players was so bad that when he outed some things happening on the team, he was subjected to death threats. He said the basketball team was where “the drug culture was” and was “really promiscuous” and where “a lot illegal stuff” happened. Because he outed these things, Barton said, he received threats and had to be accompanied to class by a police presence.

I called Blake Freeland, media relations director for ORU basketball and asked him about these claims. He said he was familiar with the ORU records from that era and could not confirm any of the claims. He could not completely deny the claim because it is possible that some misbehavior was handled discretely. However, Freeland told me there were no suspensions or other disciplinary actions in the school records and he doubted that it was true.

Furthermore, I reviewed newspaper data bases for the period and found no media accounts of suspensions or other actions which one might expect if police had to escort a student to classes due to death threats on campus. ORU’s basketball program was suspended for one year in 1980 but this was for unauthorized cash payments and dealings involving the coaches and players.

I also contacted Glenn “Smitty” Smith, beloved athletic trainer who came to ORU in 1972 (the same year Barton began his schooling there). I described Barton’s claims to Mr. Smith and in an email reply told me:

Totally untrue… I did the drug testing since 1972 and no one failed as this guy claims!!!

It is beyond me why Barton would tell an unnecessary story which puts his alma mater and the basketball players in a bad light.

This segment raises again the 2015 questions about why ORU denies David Barton’s claims to have played Division One basketball for the school and why Barton hasn’t provided an explanation for the discrepancy. Now, without evidence, he has added to the story in contradiction to the ORU athletic department.

Experts Dispute David Barton’s Claims About Translating for the Russian National Gymnastics Team

Earlier this week, David Barton told his Wallbuilders Live co-host Rick Green that he once was fluent in Russian, was asked to translate for the Russian National Gymnastics Team in 1976 and smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union “back in the day.”  Here is the audio followed by the transcript (blog note – Barton removed the audio):


Barton: That’s right, and South Korea. South Korea, Nigeria, they’re sending missionaries to America like crazy. And of course, if I looked at the stats on America, yeah we’re number one in the world on violent crimes, yeah and promiscuity, sexuality yeah and out of wedlock births yeah and and lack of marriage yeah we need some missionaries here. We need somebody who can point us to the Bible and you’re right I mean that was started going years ago just based on the stats that South Korea and Nigeria were sending Christian missionaries to America to help get people in America back to the gospel. Which ya know it looks like we’re moved further away from that then where we were even a few years ago when we talked about it so maybe some of these kids’ll- and by the way it was kind of a déjà vu thing but ya know Dirk was saying that it started as a smuggling operation, that’s really where I got started with the Soviet bloc back when the Iron Curtain was up was…I spoke Russian, I was fluent in Russian and when the Russian uh gymnastics team came to America in 1976, I got to be translator for ‘em and do translating just so…the accounts of when we went to stores was a blast.

Green: Wait, wait stop wait. You speak Russian?

Barton: I don’t now, but I was at one time fluent in Russian and again translated for the Russian gymnastics team when they came to America, but at the same time we were working our tails off to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union and and had several trips that went there smuggling Bibles in, so

Green: I wish our show was on television so people could see my shocked face right now. You interpreted- you were- I had- I didn’t know any of this.

Barton: Yeah that’s back in the day, bro.

Green: Wow, that’s amazing! So this show was pretty cool for you then

Barton: Oh yeah, it it was because it was a reminiscent of all the smuggling time and how dangerous it was and you know the Soviet bloc and the guards at the borders and all the stuff that went on there, pretty amazing.

Rick Green was flabbergasted by the claims. I was skeptical when I first heard the claims, and now after several lengthy interviews with people involved in gymnastics and trampolining in the 1970s, I am even more skeptical. I also talked to the wife of the late Bill Basansky, Barton’s Russian teacher at Oral Roberts University. Yes, Barton took a Russian class, but that may be about as close as that story gets to being plausible.

Fluent in Russian and a Bible Smuggler?

Let me first take up Barton’s claims that he was fluent in Russian and that he smuggled Bibles. Yesterday, I spoke with Beatrice Basansky, the widow of beloved Oral Roberts University professor of modern languages, Bill Basansky. Mrs. Basansky, who is a Barton admirer, said Barton took a course in Russian from her husband. She did not know how well he did in the language. She said  with firm conviction that Barton did not help her husband with Bible smuggling. She told me that there were only two men who helped her husband smuggle Bibles into Russia and Barton was not one of them.

It is very hard to imagine that one course (or even two if it was Russian 101 and 102) could lead to fluency in any language, let alone Russian. Perhaps Barton doesn’t understand the meaning of the word fluency (just like he apparently doesn’t understand what verbatim means). On the smuggling claim, this information from Mrs. Basansky doesn’t prove Barton never smuggled Bibles into Russia, but he apparently didn’t do it with his Russian professor. There were other professors at ORU who had interest in evangelizing the Soviet bloc countries (e.g., Steve Durasoff, Keith Nordberg) and Barton might have gone with one of these teachers. In my view, the smuggling claim is relatively unremarkable compared to the claims that he was fluent in Russian and translated for the Russian Gymnastics Team.

Did Barton Translate for the Russian Gymnastics Team?

On the fantastic claim that Barton translated for the Russian Gymnastics Team, I spoke to two people who had knowledge of U.S. gymnastics and trampoline and tumbling events where Russians participated in 1976. I spoke at length with Ron Munn who worked for the Nissen Corporation. Nissen provided personnel and equipment for the Russian Gymnastics Team tours of the United States. I also corresponded with Leigh Hennessy Robson, who won an event in the World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships held at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University in July 1976. The importance of that event and Mrs. Robson’s participation will be clear shortly.

I found Munn through this blog post about the Nissen Corporation’s activities in the mid-1970s. He told me about several tours of the U.S. by the Russian Gymnastics Team through the 1970s but said there was only one in 1976. The Russian team was in Montreal from mid-July through early August for the Olympics. These Olympics featured Romania’s Nadia Comaneci, and Russia’s Olga Korbut and Nellie Kim. Later in 1976, the Russian team toured the U.S. for about 2 weeks in December. Munn supplied images from the program which I will provide at the end of the post. Munn spent time with the team, and even went dancing with Olga Korbut on one of the tour stops. He does not recall any outsiders working in translation with the team. The Russians brought their own interpreters which was customary for international sports teams (see this image, which is also below, for a picture of an interpreter in a program for the 1974 Russian Trampoline Gymnastics Team). Barton’s claim here seems extremely far fetched.

Perhaps Barton was thinking of the Russian Trampoline Team which competed in the World Trampoline Championship at Oral Roberts University in July 1976. In addition to his work on the Russian gymnastics tours, Munn was also at ORU as an announcer for the event as a part of his work with the Nissen Corporation. This company was founded by George Nissen who invented the modern trampoline and developed the sport internationally. Munn married one of Nissen’s daughters.

I also corresponded with Leigh Hennessy Robson, a competitor for the United States who won two gold medals and a silver at the meet. Robson’s father, Jeff Hennessy, was the meet director. Leigh and her father are the only father-daughter pair to be inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Leigh Robson said that the Russian team brought their own interpreters. She told me, “Rest assured, David Barton did not translate Russian at the 1976 World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships at ORU.” She said the Russians also brought their own security to monitor the team. Munn added that the Soviets were concerned about Russian athletes defecting so they kept them under constant watch. The idea of using American translators did not make sense to Munn or Robson.

After all is said and done, David Barton took Russian from a professor who smuggled Bibles.

I asked Barton for evidence yesterday via Twitter with no reply. If he has any evidence for this claim or for the claim that he played Division One basketball for Oral Roberts University, I would be interested in seeing it.

Thanks to Ron Munn, Leigh Robson and Beatrice Basansky for their time and interest.

Thanks to Ron Munn for these images from the 1976 Russian Gymnastics Team tour program.
Note the cities where the tour took place:
The Russian team out dancing in New Orleans. Olga Korbut and Ron Munn are on the right:
Munn also had a program from 1974 when the USSR Trampoline team did an exhibition at the Mabee Center at ORU. Note the picture of interpreter Maya Ermolaeva who accompanied the team. Maybe, instead of Bibles, Barton smuggled himself into the Russian quarters. After all, he said it was a “blast.”

Tovarishch Brian Williams poteryal rabotu iz-za etogo. Comrade Barton , chto vy dolzhny skazat’ sebe?

ORU Icon Contradicts David Barton’s Basketball Stories

oru_logoLast week, I posted a statement from Oral Roberts University contradicting David Barton’s claim that he played basketball for ORU during record-setting seasons in the 1970s.

A reader suggested that I contact E. Glenn Smith, head trainer and icon at ORU, for more information on how the record-setting basketball teams of the early 1970s trained. Smith joined ORU as head trainer and director of sports medicine in 1972 and worked with the baseball and basketball teams during his long and distinguished career there. I supplied Smith with the following description of basketball training Barton provided to the Charis Bible School audience. Barton, a 1976 graduate of ORU, said:

I remember when I was playing basketball, the college stuff that we did. We started every day with a five mile run, then we lifted weights, then we had an hour of racquetball, then we had two hours of full-court basketball, then we came back for another run. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but in those years, our college team set the NCAA record for two years in a row for most points scored. We averaged 105, 104, 103 points a game, I forget what it was. But you had to run a lot, it wasn’t a lot of fun, but you get the results.

I then asked Smith if this routine sounded “like the type of practices and training Ken Trickey or the coach after him ran.” Smith wrote back immediately and said simply:

Trick [ORU coach Ken Trickey] ran the loosest practices ever!  They were nothing but Run and Gun Scrimmages for the entire practice!!  Smitty

In a subsequent email, it was obvious Smith did not know who Barton was and he wondered if perhaps Barton attended before Smith joined the school in 1972.

I followed up by asking if Ken Trickey’s replacement, Jerry Hale, ran loose practices or ever required players to play racquetball. Smith replied that Hale was more organized but did not include racquetball as a part of the training routine.

After this exchange, it appears to me that nothing David Barton said about playing basketball at ORU is accurate. First, Barton said he played for the record-setting team. This claim was denied by the athletic department at ORU. Then Barton went into great detail about the training routine which he said led to record-setting results. However, according to the trainer who was there, the practices were not as Barton described.

Barton isn’t the first celebrity to misremember, make up or exaggerate sports prowess.

ESPN basketball analyst Skip Bayless greatly exaggerated his role on his high school basketball team which led to several media stories and a public confrontation from ESPN co-host Jalen Rose. Bayless’ sports career inflation made number 40 on the 50 biggest sports lies put together by the Bleacher Report.

When it was alleged that Republican Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner lied about his role on his high school football team, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple thought it was important enough to check out. It turned out that Gardner played a little football but perhaps not as much as he implied. However, the story didn’t hurt him; he unseated Mark Udall in last year’s Senate race.

Apparently, truthfulness about past sports involvement matters to conservatives when the politician is a liberal as in the case of V.P. Joe Biden’s short-lived football career. Several conservative news outlets accused Biden of lying about playing football at the University of Delaware. He did play but didn’t play in a victory over the Ohio University Bobcats as Biden claimed.

Paul Ryan misremembered his marathon time which brought lots of media attention. He was running for V.P. at the time.

Back in 2001, George O’Leary resigned after 5 days on the job as football coach at Notre Dame because he made up aspects of his football and academic accomplishments. That was number 2 on the Bleacher Report top 50.

So far Christian media have ignored the story.

The significance of these gaffes is that Barton has similar problems when it comes to history and the Constitution. For instance, Barton claims that the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim. Everybody knows that is not true. Even if one believes that the Bible had some influence on the writers of the document, the Constitution doesn’t do what Barton claims.