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Serious Hitchcock Errors… Mean That Book Must Be Corrected

May 28, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By DEXTER DUGGAN

PHOENIX — I loved to read St. Louis, Mo., historian James Hitchcock’s opinion column some decades ago in the National Catholic Register, when I also wrote for that paper. I was pleased, of course, when he occasionally referred favorably to something I’d written.
In his August 30, 1981, Register column, Hitchcock cited my Register article calling unfavorable attention to the “country club set” of, as Hitchcock put it, “old-line Republicans…who regard pro-lifers as a bunch of scruffy fanatics whose presence disfigures the Grand Old Party.” Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater was the “best example” of such Republicans, he said.
Goldwater narrowly had won re-election to his final term in the U.S. Senate less than a year earlier, assisted by the official endorsement of Arizonans for Life after he pledged support for a Human Life Amendment. Carolyn Gerster, MD, a leading Arizona and national pro-life figure, was delighted to go to Goldwater’s hilltop home to receive his pledge after he phoned to inform her of his support. Gerster in her medical office told me of receiving his call.
He hadn’t been a strong pro-life figure in the Senate, but neither did he agitate to promote permissive abortion. He gave such varying reasons as that he opposed “abortion on demand” and favored legislation that would remove the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the matter. Biographer Lee Edwards noted the senator’s shifts (pp. 420-423) in his solid work Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution (Regnery).
However, less than a year later, in 1981, safely beyond the ballot box and angry that pro-lifers opposed the nomination of his “moderate” Arizona GOP neighbor Sandra O’Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court, Goldwater harshly began attacking moral traditionalists.
Perhaps historian Hitchcock back in 1981 noticed I wrote that “a snarling Goldwater has been heaping insults recently upon pro-lifers — apparently saying what he thought all along but pretended otherwise when he was hungry for their votes last year.” I added that Goldwater changed his tune and called abortion “‘the biggest humbug issue’ that wastes the time of Congress.”
We Arizona pro-lifers who voted for Goldwater in 1980 were horrified; we certainly didn’t excuse his change or cover up for it, as my writing showed. And we felt betrayed that new Republican President Ronald Reagan made O’Connor his first Supreme Court selection, an Arizona appeals-court judge we knew to be pro-abortion.
In his 1988 memoirs, after he retired from the Senate, biographer Edwards says, Goldwater said he opposed abortion. Another shift in his stand, but it went no further than personally opposed. Like the Arizonan who succeeded him in the upper chamber, Sen. John McCain, Goldwater often had been passive on the issue.
Hitchcock’s own writing back then showed exasperation and dismay at Republicans who weren’t faithful to the pro-life stand. Hitchcock didn’t seem to think he was trying to hurt the GOP by complaining this way. In his November 22, 1981, National Catholic Register column, he favorably cited a Register article I did that noted Reagan sounded as if he was backpedaling on the issue. This was “doubly ominous,” Hitchcock said.
Unfortunately as decades passed, something sad happened to Hitchcock’s standards of scholarship that should leave everyone mourning. Historians have a lot on their minds about the scope of human activity. But when they forget history, they’ve lost the core of their profession.
In late April I learned by chance on the Internet of a recent Hitchcock book, Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Catholic Politics (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J.). I was able to see a few pages online, including another man’s words being put in my mouth. Concerned, I ordered a copy.
Hitchcock’s new book is peppered with inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, and lack of research. Despite the broader-sounding title, much of the book is an attack on The Wanderer, including me as one of its writers.
He insists on a few themes regardless of the facts, including that The Wanderer doesn’t regard abortion as a crucial issue. (How many of you readers would agree with that?) I’ll take up a few of his assaults upon me as the person whom I know best.
Describing Goldwater as “fanatically pro-abortion” (p. 69), Hitchcock falsely says Duggan — that’s me — “considered the pro-abortion Goldwater worthy of unqualified support.” The historian names me as one of the faithless “Paleoconservatives” who were concerned that Reagan Democrats “made abortion their primary issue and were oblivious to ‘true conservatism’.”
We “Paleoconservatives” deal with the life issues as liberals use the “seamless garment,” Hitchcock says — we “attempt to persuade pro-lifers to transcend their narrow outlook and support a wider agenda.”
I reject this. I was appalled at Goldwater’s switch, and thrilled with the advent of Reagan Democrats. Hitchcock never quotes any admission by me of my alleged betrayals, or my admiration of what he pretends that I stand for.
Hitchcock never contacted me to discuss or try to verify any of his baseless beliefs, to state why he thought they should be accepted, or to reveal what he planned to write.
Coincidentally, a different, much younger historian who did contact me not long ago was interested in my pro-life work in the latter 20th century and conducted a recorded telephone interview. She actually already had researched my pro-life past and didn’t express any of the strange conclusions Hitchcock assumes.
Hitchcock alleges that I was covering up for Goldwater and O’Connor. He couldn’t be more wrong. Has he forgotten anything I wrote for the National Catholic Register opposing O’Connor’s confirmation to the High Court, including pro-life leader Gerster’s strong case against her?
Of course, Goldwater retired from the U.S. Senate at the end of 1986 and died in 1998, so maybe Hitchcock has forgotten. Hitchcock and I, being older guys, might tend to think in terms of the Goldwaters and Reagans in our younger times being almost contemporary figures today, but to more recently born folks, their names may be barely recognized.
Among much other pro-life journalism, I covered the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., in 1980, resulting in my three-page article in the August 1980 issue of Conservative Digest headlined, “Pro-lifers on the march, gaining converts; coming of age as potent political force.”
The sub-headline above my reporting said this convention “shows dynamism of crusade, illustrates breadth of opposition to abortion.”
That’s real, published evidence of my work back when Hitchcock inexplicably wishes to think I consorted to diminish pro-lifers and advance the careers of “fanatically pro-abortion” politicians.
Because I learned of his attacks only after the book was printed, I couldn’t prompt him to think or research more carefully before publication. This inaccurate work must be seriously corrected by the publisher.
Because Hitchcock is working from printed material, he doesn’t have much excuse for the errors he makes. And no excuse at all when he errs this way time after time.
As we’ll see more of next week, Hitchcock asserts that I said certain words when he actually means that a person or source I quoted for a newspaper article said them. Surely he knows that when a historian writes about anyone else, that famous person’s words aren’t the historian’s own remarks.
When I quoted a Phoenix Republican conservative activist, Rob Haney, strongly criticizing Sen. John McCain in a September 19, 2013, Wanderer story, Hitchcock omits the fact it clearly was Haney speaking and puts his words into my mouth instead (p. 62). Careful to use quotation marks and ellipsis, the historian still doesn’t get the speaker correct.
In the same story, I quoted a different local conservative speaking positively of McCain, but Hitchcock ignores him, as he also does at other times when he fails to acknowledge expressions of support for McCain.
Some Hitchcock themes are that The Wanderer didn’t give McCain fair coverage, and didn’t consider the abortion issue crucial.
He reaches back to page 5 of The Wanderer for a four-paragraph letter to the editor (p. 61) to note a critic of McCain (November 20, 2008), but ignores prominent coverage with positive comments about McCain, even on page one: “Arizona Pro-Life Leader Says McCain Can Be Trusted To Select Good Judges” (March 6, 2008).
It’s no secret that many millions of Republicans are critical of “maverick” McCain, often so loved by liberal media for undermining the GOP, but that doesn’t mean all positive comments about him are banned in The Wanderer.
On another topic, Hitchcock writes (p. 57) that I identified GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee as being pro-life on December 13, 2007, “but Huckabee was the only mainstream Republican candidate about whom that fact was acknowledged, and it was not repeated.”
Leaving aside the baseless claim that only Huckabee was thus acknowledged, we see The Wanderer’s online archives show that description indeed was repeated later.
My top story for the February 14, 2008, issue said the National Right to Life Committee gave Huckabee its strongest rating for any GOP candidate still in the race, and NRLC expressed gratitude for McCain’s and Mitt Romney’s stands.
The February 21, 2008, Wanderer had a story headlined, “Huckabee Draws Distinction With McCain On Pro-Life Issues” (p. 8).
On March 6, 2008, I recalled in a front-page article that Huckabee was surprised the previous November when, despite his own strong pro-life record, the NRLC gave its presidential endorsement to former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. However, Thompson dropped out of the race in January 2008, and Huckabee left in early March 2008.
In another of his serious errors, Hitchcock claims (p. 172) The Wanderer “once again revealed” that abortion wasn’t “a crucial issue” because it supported Donald Trump for the presidency. After all, Hitchcock continued, the name of passionately pro-life presidential candidate Rick Santorum “went unmentioned” in 2015 in The Wanderer, “except in one last-page article by an unfamiliar writer (June 11).”
Could this be true? Maybe an editor thought Santorum lost news value by failing to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012? Actually, a quick online archives search reveals that Santorum was mentioned in eight articles in 2015, usually briefly within longer reports.
But one was a prominent three-column-wide story I wrote on page 3 in the October 15, 2015, issue, with his name in the “kicker” part of the headline, “Santorum Urges Making Difference.”
As for the June 11 story by the “unfamiliar writer” on the “last page,” that was LifeSiteNews’ Ben Johnson about Santorum announcing his bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. This stretched across the top half of the back page (p. 8A) of the first section of a two-section newspaper.

Election Predictions

We’ve just looked at just some of Hitchcock’s erroneous and misleading statements about me.
And did you know the surprising fact that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is Catholic (p. 163)? Hitchcock claims she is.
More than a year ago, before Justice Antonin Scalia died, there had been considerable notice taken in the news of the fact that the majority-Protestant United States had a Supreme Court of six Catholics and three Jews. But the word apparently didn’t get through to Hitchcock about who they were.
With the book’s press date immediately after the November 8 presidential election, Hitchcock forecast that Trump was “almost certain to be defeated by Hillary Clinton,” but even if Trump somehow won, the historian said, the pro-life movement would nonetheless be finished (p. 194).
Even if I write five newspaper articles, that wouldn’t cover all of Hitchcock’s errors adequately. He, after all, had an entire book to toy with. But we’ll look into this some more next week.
Don’t bother with this book if you want to maintain your respect for Hitchcock’s previous reputation.

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