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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Saturday, July 17, 2004

I'll bet he invented the Internet, too.
posted by lostingotham

Does the AP even bother with fact checkers?  I'm beginning to doubt it.
 
In this story, the AP relates the claims of the "town historian" of Derry, New Hampshire, who has connected John Kerry to the old sod. 

Derry town historian Richard Holmes said he's traced Kerry's lineage to an Irish immigrant believed to have introduced the potato to America.

Numerous publications have stated over the years that Kerry is Irish-American, which could help in Massachusetts, the most Irish state in the nation. Kerry said he's always corrected the misstatements.

....

James McGregor led a group of settlers from to New Hampshire in the early 1700s in search of political, economic, cultural and religious freedom. In 1720, according to local history, McGregor also planted the first potatoes in North America.


Now I'm no whiz-bang professional journalist, but I spot two glaring errors in the paragraphs above:
 
First, as I learned in the third grade (public school--in rural Texas, mind you), the potato is native to the Americas, so it would be bloody difficult for Kerry's putative ancestor to have introduced them.  And while I lack the vaunted training in research to be had at Columbia J-school, it only took me about 30 seconds with Google to discover a reference to potato farming in North America that predates Mr. McGregor by over a hundred years:
Kaishúcpenauk a white kind of roots about the bignes of hen egs & nere of that forme: their tast was not so good to our seeming as of the other, and therfore their place and manner of growing not so much cared for by vs: the inhabitãts notwithstanding vsed to boile & eate many.

Thomas Hariot, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). 
 
Second, and more importantly, Kerry hasn't "always corrected" errors regarding his heritage--indeed, he's made some misstatements of his own.  This Slate article details several, including a March 18, 1986, declaration Kerry made on the floor of the Senate:
For those of us who are fortunate to share an Irish ancestry, we take great pride in the contributions that Irish-Americans …

and this statement he made in 1984:
As some of you may know, I am part-English and part-Irish. And when my Kerry ancestors first came over to Massachusetts from the old country to find work in the New World, it was my English ancestors who refused to hire them.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that whether Kerry's long-dead ancestor invented the potato or whether Kerry has a drop or two of Irish blood matters one whit to whether he should be President (though potatoes have been an issue before, and whether Kerry lied is surely interesting).  But whether it matters or not, it would be easy enough for the AP to check out.  Who knows?  If the AP were scrupulously accurate with regard to printing minor factual claims that are easy to verify (or discredit), perhaps they'd be more believable when they publish major claims that are harder to check up on.  But such trivial details might distract them from their hagiography.

posted by lostingotham | 7/17/2004 01:12:00 PM
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am that town historian Richard Holmes and while I didn't have the advantage of a Texas Education I do check my facts. The Derry (originally called Londonderry) claim to being the birth place of the potato can be documented several 100 years and is supported in so many sourses. In fact you'll be able to goggle all the site you want to conferm the truth to my comments-sites ranging from Orieda, the North Carolina Dept of Agriculture, the Potato Institute of America and on and on.The "potatoes you are refering to in the quote are a wild ground plant not the spud we have today.Releigh may have brought the tater to England but he had got them in South America. If I and Derry are wrong so are 100's of other historians and experts. The potato is native to America yes but South America it was brought by the Spanish to Europe then by the Irish to Derry. Rick Holmes, Derry NH

5:01 PM, July 29, 2004  
Blogger lostingotham said...

With all respect due to Mr. Holmes in his august role as Derry Historian, it would appear that he checks his facts no better than he does his spelling (where his lack of a quality Texas education is sadly evident--or perhaps "conferm" is the historical variant).  Else he would surely have stumbled across some reference to the 1622 gift by Nathaniel Butler (Governor of Bermuda) to Francis Wyatt (a colonist in Jamestown, Virginia, NORTH America) of two cedar chests containing potatoes.  Governor Butler's gift preceeded Mr. McGregor's daring exploits by some ninety-eight years.  Although the hundreds of historians Mr. Holmes purports to speak for remain ignorant of Butler's historic generosity, the fine folks at the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Bermuda Royal Gazette, and the Oregon Potato Commission do not. 

I've come to expect airbrushing of history from politicians, but I still find it surprising from someone who styles himself "historian."

1:11 AM, July 30, 2004  
Blogger lostingotham said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:20 AM, July 30, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear sir,
Holmes again-Yes there are sites which claim other birth places fot the potato-but I have seen others which dismiss the Bermuta story.Neither you nor I were there.I have examined the case and side with Derry-you may do other wise if you wish-but the facts were checked and weighed!My evaluation leads me to a certain conclusion-your research may make you believe in Virgina. We are allowewd different conclusions drawn from the available body of evidence.AP based their story on what I said and I was echoing other published historians.My story on Kerry was not in support of him or against him-only the story of his great (X6) grandfather in 1718-1719 and the founding of my town.When I go to the Alamo-I'll be back there next Spring -I may hear one story of the death of my boy hood hero Davy and in movies a different version and in an examination of a mexican diary a third story. Which is right, which is wrong?Is one way the real story or perhaps all the necessary evidence is not yet available (and perhaps never will be).I do apologize for any errors in spelling or grammer but as Mr. Hearst is said to have said "If'burd' doesn't spell 'bird' what does it spell?". Richard Holmes

8:17 AM, July 30, 2004  
Blogger lostingotham said...

Gee, Mr. Holmes, what happened to "you'll be able to goggle all the site [sic] you want to conferm [sic] the truth to my comments?" Well I googled, and I found over three dozen sites that say the potato was introduced in Virginia. Say...you're not related to Gary Hart, are you?

Oh, and by the way--while your spelling and grammar aren't directly germaine to the central question, they do clearly reflect on your scholarship. If I'm asked to choose between your position and that of another historian whose research skills at least extend to use of a dictionary...well, let's just say I start with a heavy presumption that the guy who can spell "source" is more likely to have one.

2:05 PM, July 30, 2004  
Blogger history said...

Just a few thoughts.

My research has shown evidence to support both your side in this debate.

What scares me is lostingothams ability to have an adult debate with out resorting to childish personal attacks is just as bad as our presidential candidates.

9:31 PM, August 21, 2004  
Blogger lostingotham said...

Perhaps you meant to say:

"My research has shown evidence to support both [of] your side[s] in this debate.

What scares me is [that] lostingotham[']s [in]ability to have an adult debate with[]out resorting to childish personal attacks is just as bad as [that of] our presidential candidates."

In answer to you [no deciphered] concern:

I lack the resources to personally verify many of the assertions Mr. Holmes--or any "historian" for that matter--makes. I must therefore look to whatever indicia of reliability present themselves in judging the facts he presents. From the posts above, Mr. Holmes appears to be a man of very modest scholarly accomplishment. That fact does not engender my confidence in his research.

I have no doubt that Mr. Holmes is a sincere and decent fellow. It would surprise me very much (despite his propensity to issue ill-advised challenges) if he were closely related to Gary Hart. Nonetheless, I have not set out to judge Mr. Holmes, personally, but the facts and argument he puts forth. His near-illiteracy does not reflect badly upon him as a person (my own grandfather was illiterate and the salt of the earth), but it does undermine his credibility as one deserving of my trust in his scholarly research.

3:20 PM, October 07, 2004  

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