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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

An Interview with Dexter Duggan on the "Family Feud" with James Hitchcock

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Earlier this month I wrote a post about the "family feud" between Catholic historian James Hitchcock and The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic newspaper. Hitchcock's book, Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Catholic Politics, targets The Wanderer (and reporter Dexter Duggan particularly) with a tsunami of criticism.  But the charges, from the perspective of a regular reader (myself), are baffling since Hitchcock implies that The Wanderer and several of her writers, have thrown the pro-life issue under the bus.


The Wanderer is one of the most consistent champions of babies in the womb and those who defend them in the Catholic media. The newspaper also publishes some of the best commentary on Catholic teaching about the entire range of pro-life issues: abortion, euthanasia, homosexual activism and same-sex "marriage", assisted suicide, reproductive technology, etc. How could a Catholic historian get things so wrong?

What, exactly is going on? What sent Professor Hitchcock off the rails running down rabbit trails espousing hare-brained ideas in contradiction to facts? I discussed the issue with Dexter Duggan to try to shed some light on this disturbing situation.

MAK: Dexter, I've known you for a long time and have always found your reporting to be fair and insightful. I've also been an admirer of James Hitchcock, and am really puzzled by his apparent animosity toward you and The Wanderer. As a regular reader, I couldn't help taking personally this paragraph from his book that empties both barrels at people like me who read and trust the newspaper:
The Trump movement was in many ways an ecumenical manifestation of the Wanderer Catholic underground of conspiracy theories, old religious and ethnic grudges, economic ignorance, resentment, and alienation from the entire modern world, an amalgam that for a time saw Ron Paul as its messiah and that above all yearned for the emotional release that a demagogue could provide.
All I can say is, YIKES!" Is that what he really thinks about The Wanderer and her readers? It sounds unhinged to me. Can you give us an idea of what exactly is going on?

Delicious loco-weed
DD: The thing is, Mary Ann, that Dr. Hitchcock doesn't simply mistakenly identify me as a pro-abortion fan on just one page in his book. His operating thesis is that abortion isn't important to The Wanderer or me, and the paper "consistently" (false) supported Trump's campaign, even though Trump, Hitchcock thinks, would bring an end to the pro-life movement if elected president. Hitchcock should have waited a few more months to see what happened before rushing to press at election time 2016. I noted when Fr. Pavone [of Priests for Life] defended Trump, and I did a Page 3 interview about that. But long-time pro-lifer Fr. Pavone isn't even in the book's index -- but the Spanish-American War and Prohibition are!

Time after time, Hitchcock actually changes what I have written, to serve his thesis. He has my printed articles before his eyes, but he changes what they say. He even gives the dates of the articles -- as if it never occurred to him that anyone might actually look up the articles and discover how he mangled them. Just to give one instance: I covered an official Republican Party meeting and obtained a quote from an activist who was looking forward to the defeat of a radical pro-abortion Democratic candidate. But Hitchcock changes this to say I covered a meeting of "true conservatives" (a term he uses to mean people who look down their noses at pro-lifers) who were "ecstatic" over a pro-abortion Republican. False through and through. Hitchcock's slant is so much in this direction, it's hard to consider it inadvertent. How did he talk himself into taking this line? And how did he sell it to a publisher? But the edition of this book being sold to universities is nearly $100. Was Dr. Hitchcock paid for writing it? Christendom College, for one, bought it!

MAK: Have you and Dr. Hitchcock had any interaction personally. Have you met with him or spoken to him about his errors?

DD:  He has never replied to my criticism of his book's startling errors. I've never met Dr. Hitchcock that I recall, Mary Ann, but I was a big fan of his National Catholic Register column. As he says in his book, he's always lived in St. Louis, while I'm in Arizona and California, and the Register headquarters was in Century City, LA, which I visited now and then. However, I did speak to Dr. Hitchcock on the phone once that I specifically recall, in 1978 or 1979. I'd covered the abortionist Waddill homicide trial for the Register as well as for The Wanderer, and he wrote at least one column about the trial. I think he mentioned me as providing coverage of the trial. No animosity at all then. It's just a total transformation, from his referring favorably to some of my Register articles back then, to his claiming now that I was a dedicated promoter of "fanatically pro-abortion" Goldwater and the "Paleoconservative" cause that wanted to draw pro-lifers away from their "narrow outlook."

MAK: I remember the Waddill trial. Can you tell my readers a little more about it.

DD: The first four-month trial in the strangling death of an abortion survivor, in 1978, ended in a mistrial when the judge changed the definition of death on the jurors after they had begun deliberating. They were moving toward conviction when Judge James K. Turner said to throw out the definition they'd been using, cessation of heartbeat and respiration, and use "brain death" instead. When jurors asked how "brain death" was to be applied, the judge wouldn't tell them! So that was a mistrial. The second four-month trial, in 1979, ended in a mistrial, too. The implied message got through to jurors that the 17-year-old mom wanted a dead baby and got a dead baby, so what was the problem? (Actually, the mom brought suit because, she said, she hadn't realized her baby could have survived, but she got nowhere on that.) There were two holdouts for conviction in the second trial, but one of those was excused when she felt ill. The sole remaining holdout, Alfred Fonseca, later told me that the majority jurors just brushed away the evidence against Waddill. From my own interviews with those jurors after the trial, Fonseca was right. When I asked one woman about Waddill discussing drowning or poisoning Baby Weaver, she said that was just shop talk! Oh sure, when you have a gasping newborn saline survivor in an isolette, you just gossip with the chief of pediatrics about drowning a live baby in a bucket?! Waddill feared big lawsuits for, he assumed, a saline-brain-damaged baby. The prosecutor asked for a third trial, but Judge Byron McMillan turned him down, saying two trials had produced no result -- no conviction or acquittal.

MAK: That's a fascinating piece of history. Didn't you mention a connection with that trial and Gianna Jessen who survived a saline abortion and is a pro-life singer and speaker today? Can you speak a little about that.

DD: It was at the first Waddill trial when I first saw Gianna Jessen as a one-year-old baby girl.
Waddill was on homicide trial for killing Baby Girl Weaver in the newborn nursery at Westminster, CA Community Hospital after she survived his saline abortion at about seven and a half months. Waddill tried to paint himself as having no need to kill the baby in the nursery because he just couldn't conceive that a baby would survive the traumatic effects of saline. However, the prosecution led by Robert Chatterton told us reporters that they were being contacted from around the nation by people saying saline survival isn't unusual. That's one reason salines later dropped out of favor for abortionists. So the prosecution brought two surviving baby girls into the courtroom as evidence of survivals. Both had been saline-aborted right there in southern California around the same time Baby Girl Weaver was aborted in March 1977. Prosecutors didn't have to go searching the nation over the decades to find other survivors. And both these survivors were girls. (Girls' rights, anyone?) They were given the pseudonyms of Baby Tiffany and Margo Hobbs (pseudonyms because their families weren't accused of anything). Margo was Gianna.

MAK: How did you find out since pseudonyms were used:

Dexter and Gianna Jessen in 2009
DD: I didn't know what ever became of their lives until I bought the book Gianna, by Jessica Shaver, in, I think, the early 1990s and was shocked to learn that Gianna was the baby I'd seen! I knew nothing about this Gianna, but was interested to learn she grew up in southern California. I thought, oh, I know southern California. Then I read she was aborted in 1977, and I started to feel a chill. Then she wrote that she'd been taken into a courtroom, and I realized she was a baby I saw. I met Gianna as an adult for the first time in 2009, when I introduced her at a pro-life fund-raiser in Scottsdale. I told the audience that this was the first time she and I had been under the same roof since 1978. I said I was about the same size as back then, but she was much smaller, she was a baby. Since 2009, I've given her a lift I think twice when she's been here for appearances.

MAK: Wow! That gives me chills. I've heard Gianna speak and she is an amazing witness for life! Back to Dr. Hitchcock. I know that you've pointed out errors in his book about your writing. Have you tried to contact him for correction?

DD: This is an important point. When I point out the facts now (such as in my 2017 Wanderer articles critical of his book), Dr. Hitchcock could at least have said: "Oh, I'm sorry, Dexter, I carelessly forgot you always were on the pro-life side. I'll correct this right away." Instead, as Chris Manion [another Wanderer contributor] says in his blog article on Hitchcock's behavior generally: "Jim Hitchcock is silent." Well, not entirely silent. He's still selling a book (including on biggie EWTN) that by now he has been advised is peppered with serious errors. I first wrote both him and his publisher in late May 2017, but all the publisher has done is dig in its heels, and Hitchcock has never even acknowledged me since then. You'd think he and [the publishers] would be anxious to remove such embarrassing errors, but the very opposite is the case -- continuing to smear me and The Wanderer. 

MAK: Can you give some specific examples?

DD: Hitchcock has altered my stories to cause a false impression which betrays the professions of both reporter and historian. Here's an egregious example. In a 2013 story I quoted GOP activist Rob Haney. Here's what I wrote:
“Asked why McCain would rush to help a flailing Obama, Haney, a longtime foe of McCain, replied, ‘McCain is like a mad scientist. No one can figure him out, and he likes it that way. He revels in it, and the mainstream media grovels at his feet for want of a sound bite or interview from the mad scientist. The best that can be said for McCain is that he is unstable, irrational, and incredibly vindictive’.”
But how did Hitchcock present this comment by Haney? “In 2013 (Sept. 19), Duggan said ‘McCain is like a mad scientist…. The best that can be said for McCain is that he is unstable, irrational, and incredibly vindictive’.” Hitchcock was careful to use quotation marks and ellipsis here, but entirely erred regarding the clearly named speaker.

MAK: That's a pretty serious error. Could it have been just one aberration in an otherwise accurate work?

DD: Absolutely not! In the 27th paragraph of a Dec. 17, 2015, Wanderer story about black activist Ted Hayes speaking on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, I wrote: “U. S. blacks ‘are moving toward Donald Trump’ because they recognize ‘he’s speaking more to our interests’ on the 14th Amendment, Hayes said.” However, Hitchcock took Hayes’ words and wrote (p. 172): “Blacks too, Duggan said (Dec. 17), were opposed to immigration and would flock to Trump’s banner.” Hitchcock got the speaker wrong, the verb wrong (moving, not flocking), and misrepresented Hayes’ reference to illegal immigration as being only about “immigration.

When I reported a talk by a conservative activist who liked U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, I myself allegedly “seemed to favor Cruz.” When I interviewed former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum about a new Christmas movie from his entertainment company, Hitchcock imagined that I “enthusiastically proposed Santorum for president” [Oct. 31, 2013, Wanderer; p. 161 of ARFCP]. He isn't even consistent. How could an alleged pro-abortionist like me favor a strong pro-lifer like Santorum?

MAK: It's hard to understand a professional historian making all these errors of fact.

DD: There's plenty more! To give a few examples: In the Aug. 6, 2009, Wanderer, I cited Washington Times reporter Ralph Hallow writing up the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, saying that “she is eager to campaign for Republicans, independents, and even Democrats who share her values on limited government, strong defense, and ‘energy independence’.” Note, Palin explicitly mentioned eagerness to campaign for Republicans. Yet how did Hitchcock describe her campaign plans? He totally garbled this by pretending that I was writing instead about my own preferences. Hitchcock wrote, “In 2009 (Aug. 6) Duggan placed his hopes in either conservative Democrats, a possible third party, or Sarah Palin” (p. 68 of ARFCP). Neither Palin nor I said anything in this story about hoping for a third party. Hitchcock says The Wanderer shirks the Republican Party, but he himself removes references to it from Wanderer stories. He asserts that I “scarcely acknowledged … embarrassing facts” about Barry Goldwater and his friend Sandra O’Connor, Ronald Reagan’s first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is fiction. I put together a thick folder of material with facts. Hitchcock completely ignores reporting like a 42-paragraph story — yes, 42 paragraphs, not 42 words — that I wrote about O’Connor’s pro-abortion record in Arizona after Reagan selected her. This story started on Page One of the National Catholic Register of Aug. 30, 1981. Hitchcock’s method of operation seemed to assume that whatever I wrote was an expression of my own words and ideas, no matter whom I quoted or what the topic was.

MAK: This is very disturbing. It sounds like he has a personal vendetta. Have you complained to the publisher?

DD: I mailed them repeatedly. Neither Hitchcock nor his publisher made any effort to apologize or correct this startling lack of scholarship so I engaged an attorney. I wrote two articles (here and here) in The Wanderer (here and here) after I had time to obtain and read the book. Although one might think Hitchcock is an avid reader of The Wanderer, he has never replied to either of them.

MAK: Do you have any final comment?

DD: Pray for Dr. Hitchcock and his publishing company (Taylor and Francis), and me, too! The unhelpful people at his publisher whose names I know are Tyler Bay, Dean Birkenkamp, and attorney Julie Smith. The book first came out under the Transaction label, a company that soon was acquired by Taylor and Francis, which has put out the book under the Routledge imprint. And thanks for asking!

MAK: It's always a pleasure to talk with you, Dexter. I hope all my readers will keep this sad situation in their daily prayers and I wish you success in your efforts to set the record straight. The saddest controversies in life, I think, are the ones that involve the betrayal of those we consider members of the family.

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