Historical myths

Those things we all “know” are true

Boston tea party
No historical incident has been put to greater political use than the colonists disguised as “red Indians” who dumped tea in the harbor to protest tea taxes. What almost no one is told is that the tax protesters were not demanding lower taxes. They were demanding higher taxes.

Nixon’s secret plan
Richard Nixon never said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but the wide belief that he had one dogged his presidency. It was all based on a newspaper interpretation of a speech he gave in New Hampshire during the 1968 campaign—a speech that could just as easily have been interpreted as saying he had no plan.

Blood Alley
During 1999-2000, residents along the stretch of Highway 50 between Fallon and Fernley wanted the highway widened. They succeeded in getting journalists to portray the stretch as the most lethal in the state, with terms like corridor of death and blood alley becoming popular. A list issued by the state highway department put it only 27th among high-fatality highways in the state.

Those nasty feds
During his U.S. House service, Jim Gibbons told conservative audiences a lurid tale of federal Bureau of Land Management agents roughing up a family on a fishing trip in New Mexico. The Associated Press checked his story and found that the family members were grand theft suspects who were armed and were later convicted of perjury for lying about the incident.

The investor class
During debates over tax legislation in 2003, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist claimed, “We’ve never had a bill aimed at the investor class before.” Journalist Jim Toedtman traced such bills back at least to the early 1900s.

Katrina murders
During the Hurricane Katrina news coverage, there were published and broadcast reports of murders, rapes and other violence in the New Orleans Convention Center, the Louisiana Superdome and Texas shelters. One of the journalists who reported these things, Brian Thevenot, later tried to trace how the stories, which were false, gained traction.

Founding father Rob Lowe
On an episode of The West Wing, the character “Sam Seaborn” quoted a Georgia delegate to the U.S. constitutional convention criticizing the idea of a bill of rights: “If we list a set of rights, some fools in the future are going to claim that the people are entitled to those rights enumerated and no others.” This quote now appears on a number of Web sites as a real quote from the constitutional convention. It’s not.