Stengel-gate Update: Letter to David Eisner, Head of the National Constitution Center

About a week ago I published a post at Big Journalism outlining fourteen clear factual errors in Richard Stengel’s essay on the Constitution.



I said at the time that I considered it a journalistic scandal that such an error-ridden piece appeared in Time magazine, a once-respected publication. For instance, in the article he stated remarkably that “[i]f the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so.” I have dubbed this scandal “Stengel-gate.”

I also considered it scandalous because of who the author, Richard Stengel, is:

The author is not only the Managing Editor for Time, but he spent two years as President and CEO of the National Constitution Center. And even today, he works with the National Constitution Center’s Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, whose stated mission is “to help both professional journalists and students interested in journalism understand constitutional issues more deeply.” That is right. He is there to help journalists understand the Constitution better.

It has been about a week and the story has even appeared on Fox News. And yet there is apparently no correction, no retraction of the story, or even a defense of it.

So frankly in an effort to keep the heat on, I decided to explore the other end of the scandal: what on earth was he doing working at something called the National Constitution Center? I plan to spend several days discussing that issue and to kick it off, I decided to write a letter to its current President and CEO, the man holding the position that Richard Stengel once occupied: David Eisner.

So on Tuesday night, I wrote to him directly. You can see the letter I wrote below the fold.

I do not know if he will respond or how he will respond. But whatever his reaction is, even a non-response, will reflect on him and his organization. And that in and of itself is noteworthy.

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David Eisner

President and Chief Executive Officer

National Constitution Center,

525 Arch Street

Independence Mall

Philadelphia, PA 19106

[email omitted]

Dear Mr. Eisner,

My name is Aaron Worthing, and I write to you as a concerned member of the public. I wanted to alert you about the recent statements of one of your members that calls into question his fitness to serve at the National Constitution Center. Specifically, I wanted to talk about Richard Stengel, who used to serve as President and CEO of your organization, and still serves on the Board of Advisors for the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution. This program, as you know, is designed to help journalists to understand the Constitution more deeply. As an attorney and as a private citizen, I consider that to be a laudable goal, very much worth pursuing.

However, I am deeply concerned about what role Mr. Stengel might be playing in your organization given the shocking lack of knowledge that he has recently demonstrated in regards to the Constitution, in his work as Managing Editor of Time magazine. On June 23, Time magazine published a cover story by him entitled “One Document, Under Siege,” discussing the Constitution and its application to four present controversies. I was stunned to discover fourteen clear errors in that Time article and published a piece outlining those errors at Big Journalism. Eight of those errors specifically relate to the interpretation of the Constitution and are generally obvious on the face of the document. The most remarkable paragraph in his piece made this patently false statement about the Constitution:

If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so. Article I, Section 8, the longest section of the longest article of the Constitution, is a drumroll of congressional power. And it ends with the “necessary and proper” clause, which delegates to Congress the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” Limited government indeed.

(emphasis added.)

That is a direct quote from him, and it does not appear to be taken out of context. I invite you to read his original piece to verify that he did actually say it. I will admit that I could hardly believe it myself when I first saw it.

There are seven other errors that directly relate to the Constitution. They are:

  1. The Constitution is not law.
  2. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment emancipated the slaves.
  3. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to African Americans.
  4. The original Constitution declared that black people were to be counted as three-fifths of a person.
  5. The original, unamended Constitution prohibited women from voting.
  6. The Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to tax individuals based on whether they buy a product or service.
  7. Social Security is a debt within the meaning of Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Each of these claims are patently false, and the majority of them can be proven false by doing nothing more than reading the Constitution itself. Indeed many of these points are in my opinion common knowledge. I invite you to read the linked materials and make up your own mind on the subject.

But I wish to ask you, sir, two questions:

First, what is Mr. Stengel’s exact role in the National Constitution Center? Specifically, does he teach others about the Constitution?

Second, does the National Constitution Center have any official statement regarding the serial inaccuracies that appeared in Time, a national magazine, regarding the Constitution?

I will note that your website states that your organization as a whole is “dedicated to increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution, its history, and its contemporary relevance” and therefore I have to believe that once you are made aware of these errors, you would be eager to seek that this information be corrected.

I thank you for taking the time to read this email and to consider the issues that it raises. I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

Aaron Worthing

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Adapted from a substantially similar post at
Patterico’s Pontifications.

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