John Oliver can’t stand fake quotes. On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the comedian blasted presidents and presidential candidates for saying quotes that founding fathers and historic politicians never said.
Oliver pointed to an October 5 interview with Ben Carson on Fox News, where the presidential candidate cited a false Thomas Jefferson quote on gun control.
“Thomas Jefferson himself said,” Carson said on Fox News. “‘Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk.'”
Carson really cited a quote from Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria that was copied by Jefferson into his law school notebook, according to Media Matters. The Thomas Jefferson Society said the wrongly cited Beccaria quote is “spurious” since it’s not clear that Jefferson agreed or disagreed with Beccaria’s words.
“You cannot give people credit for things they copied into notebooks,” Olivers said. “Otherwise my teenage self would claim credit for the Pythagorean Theorem and most Smashing Pumpkins lyrics.”
Watch Carson misquote Jefferson on Fox News, courtesy of Media Matters.
Carson isn’t the only presidential candidate known for sharing fake quotes, Oliver said. Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul have either said or published incorrect founding father quotes, BuzzFeed News reported.
Sitting presidents have misquoted the founding fathers as well, Oliver said.
In a speech before the House Democrats in 2010 hours before the Affordable Care Act was passed, President Barack Obama misquoted Abraham Lincoln, NPR reported.
“I was tooling through some of the writings of some previous presidents, and I came upon this quote by Abraham Lincoln,” Obama said. “‘I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.'”
Although the quote is rousing, there’s no evidence that Lincoln ever said it, said Claremont McKenna College politics professor John Pitney on NPR‘s website. But Obama isn’t the only president to misquote Lincoln.
Ronald Reagan said a bogus Lincoln quote during a 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention, the New York Times reported.
“Principles so eloquently stated by Abraham Lincoln,” Reagan said. “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
Oliver then showed Bill Clinton saying a Lincoln quote that is fake according to an Abraham Lincoln Association newsletter.
“Mr. Lincoln once said, ‘You can fool all of the people, some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.'”
During his 2014 campaign, Rep. Jody Hice used his Twitter and Facebook to upload fake quotes nicely packaged in graphics, Oliver said. Hice listed bogus quotes misattributed to Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and John Quincy Adams, BuzzFeed News reported.
“Most bad government has grown out of too much government,” was one quote Hice’s campaign misattributed to Jefferson with a graphic.
“If you have the right font and the right photo, any quote can seem real,” Oliver said. “I know that because for years now you may have seen multiple photos of me comparing gun control to airport security.”
Oliver denies ever saying the quote in question.
“One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we will take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change in our regulation of guns,” the allegedly incorrect quote reads.
In response to all the fake quotes, Oliver has created the website DefinitelyRealQuotes.com. There you can generate all sorts of fake (but entertaining) quote memes that are improperly attributed to historical figures.
“It seems we have a decision to make,” Oliver said. “Either we care about the accuracy of quotes and make sure they’re correctly sourced. Or, we don’t care at all.”
[Header Image: Screengrab]