By Dexter Duggan
In a long Q-and-A interview in Catholic Business Journal, historian James Hitchcock mentioned his most recent book, Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Catholic Politics, published late in 2016, and said he hoped soon to finish his next one, Religion and the Liberal Society.
Hitchcock made some comments about how to attain accuracy, such as: “Historians should try to establish the basic facts. What really did happen? It’s not always clear and there are misconceptions about it. It’s much like a scientist who has to make sure his experiments are correct before he tries to generalize from them. So that’s the historians’ primary duty. To the extent that a historian sees patterns, the historian must point them out in his work.” [Emphasis in the original.]
Hitchcock added later: “The historian is bound by his sources. Any statement you make, someone can challenge by asking, ‘How do you know that?’…
“The sources are usually documents,” he continued, “and we have to judge these sources, as historians, by the age and reliability of the document and by other documents that might cast a different light on the original source being examined. You can do this about the past or you can do it about the present-day Church. You have to read widely until you get a fairly balanced picture of what’s happening.” [Emphasis in the original.]
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This is fascinating. Hitchcock’s own words in a long Q-and-A show that he thoroughly violated even the most basic standards of accuracy and fairness that he professes when writing Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Catholic Politics (hereafter, ARFCP for brevity). He had the exact words of articles I wrote in The Wanderer national weekly Catholic newspaper right in front of him. But he didn’t even attribute some direct quotations accurately, and wasn’t able – or wasn’t willing – to state correctly material in the articles. This isn’t a matter of whether he agreed with articles, but of his incapacity to place before readers what they said.
And when he didn’t see what he wanted, Hitchcock also made up assertions from thin air, without providing citations. You can’t, of course, give a citation for what doesn’t exist.
Whoever the publisher is to be for that next book, Religion and the Liberal Society, its editor had better pay far more careful attention to Hitchcock’s manuscript than Transaction Publishers did for ARFCP. (Taylor & Francis Group shortly thereafter acquired Transaction Publishers but has not corrected the book’s numerous, serious errors, despite repeatedly being informed of them.)
Maybe you’ll be a target in his next book. Who knows? He never told me I was a target in ARFCP, before or after it was published. I just happened to learn of the book online in late April 2017. And Hitchcock has never even acknowledged critical articles I’ve written pointing out his errors, or a total of six letters – three of them certified – I mailed to him and to his publisher. Does he seem to prefer dirtying up a target, then running for cover instead of facing up?
Thinking things over, I even pondered whether Hitchcock just had some student intern slap together something for ARFCP that Hitchcock could put his name on as author. That wouldn’t have been ethical, but at least it would have absolved Hitchcock of direct responsibility for the numerous flabbergasting errors that appear under his name — a long-time, well-known historian. Sometimes guys get bored with their jobs and just start going through the motions while others do their work. That’s not an adequate excuse for his mess, but at least we wouldn’t have to judge him as consciously creating deceptions.
I’m hardly the only target in ARFCP. Considering that almost everything he wrote about me is false, misleading or otherwise erroneous, it hardly seems likely Hitchcock was scrupulously accurate when making his other attacks.
I’ve previously noted that among Hitchcock’s appalling errors was his baseless assertion that I considered “fanatically pro-abortion” U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater to be “worthy of unqualified support.” However, Hitchcock was unable to cite any article or speech by me – or provide the testimony of any other witness – that I urged voters to support Goldwater either because of, or despite, his pro-abortion radicalism. Indeed, in his final successful race for the U.S. Senate, in 1980, Goldwater had the official endorsement of Arizonans for Life, the state’s largest pro-life political group – not of Planned Parenthood.
Goldwater later vocally turned against moral traditionalists, and we conservative Arizonans denounced his harsh attacks then, but he never again faced voters.
Hitchcock tosses off magisterial-sounding pronouncements that easily are exposed as false. Even shockingly false and propagandistic. What sort of reputation as historian can he hope to have when he is so easily disproven?
I had reported on the Republican Party’s “annual meeting of GOP precinct committeemen in [John] McCain’s home county of Maricopa” (Phoenix is county seat) as the top story in the Wanderer dated for Jan. 28, 2010. (Like some other publications, Wanderer issues are dated one week after the publication date, which, in this case, was Jan. 21, 2010.)
But Hitchcock altered my writing and said that “Duggan reported” on a gathering of “Tea Partiers and other true conservatives in Arizona” (p. 154). (“True conservatives” is a term he uses to mean people who look down on pro-lifers.) These people I reported on, Hitchcock continued, “were ecstatic over newly elected Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.” Hitchcock immediately added his own parenthetical sentence: “(Brown was pro-abortion.)”
Some Tea Partiers certainly were present, but this was an official annual GOP meeting. Here’s an opportunity Hitchcock had to give credit to the Republican Party, which he claims The Wanderer shirks. Why would he remove the GOP identification and write something else?
Attendees of the Jan. 16, 2010, meeting were excited at the growing possibility that Democrat Martha Coakley, a firm leftist and pro-abortion extremist, would lose a special election scheduled for Jan. 19 in Massachusetts to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
I wrote that Coakley had suggested Catholics shouldn’t work in hospital emergency rooms because of their moral views, and I quoted Arizona political consultant Shane Wikfors that Coakley’s comment “was a stick in the eye…. That may have been one of the nails in the coffin” for Coakley’s campaign. But Hitchcock ignored this vital backgrounding.
I didn’t even mention her Republican foe, Scott Brown, until the last two paragraphs of a 44-paragraph story about the Jan. 16 Arizona meeting that I was writing on the evening of Jan. 19, when the Massachusetts election results started coming in to produce Brown’s victory.
Confused as he often is, Hitchcock said the Arizonans celebrated “newly elected” Brown at their gathering, even though the election wasn’t until three days later.
And as the results sank in, Brown’s victory was widely interpreted as a shocking upset of Democratic Party power and repudiation of President Barack Obama’s strenuous fight to ram through Obamacare. Even regarding the abortion issue, Brown was less pro-abortion than loser Coakley, which led pro-lifers to hope they could find some cooperation with Brown.
Although Hitchcock mentioned the desirability of examining other documents during his interview with Catholic Business Journal, he entirely ignored the front-page article I wrote for the following week’s Wanderer that looked into important aspects of Brown’s victory.
I soon was in Washington, D.C., to cover the annual national March for Life on January 22 for The Wanderer, which spread my story across most of the top of the front page of the Feb. 4, 2010, issue, then continued it on p. 7. Pro-lifers were overjoyed at Brown’s victory.
I wrote: “Brian Darling, director of Senate Relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, expressed optimism about people being able to work with Brown. Although Brown isn’t a predictable conservative in a liberal state like Massachusetts, ‘He definitely has a more friendly feel toward him’ than the liberal Coakley, Darling told The Wanderer. ‘I think everybody has high hopes to work with Scott Brown,’ Darling said, adding that Massachusetts Citizens for Life and other pro-life groups supported him.”
Hitchcock falsely wrote that the Arizona gathering celebrated Brown’s victory as a pro-abortionist before the election was held, then Hitchcock entirely ignored the following week’s lead story from Washington, D.C., about the facts of the victory.
Your misrepresentations are so shameful, Dr. Hitchcock.
On p. 57 of ARFCP Hitchcock wrote, “…The Wanderer also did all in its power to discredit the Republican Party in general and Sen. John McCain in particular. A regular Wanderer author named Dexter Duggan identified Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas as being pro-life (Dec. 13, 2007), but Huckabee was the only mainstream Republican candidate about whom that fact was acknowledged, and it was not repeated.”
Without needing to do an intensive investigation of the validity of Hitchcock’s assertion, an online search in Wanderer archives (the same kind of search Hitchcock could have done, but apparently did not) quickly reveals that I subsequently mentioned Huckabee’s strong pro-life record in three additional articles – need we say “repeatedly”? — before he dropped out of that presidential race in early March 2008.
This included the top story I did for the Feb. 14, 2008, Wanderer. It said the National Right to Life Committee gave Huckabee its strongest rating for any of the GOP candidates still in the 2008 race, and “is also grateful for the strong pro-life voting record on abortion” of McCain, and “also appreciates the pro-life position taken in this presidential campaign” by Mitt Romney.
So much for Hitchcock’s claim in the very same sentence that “Huckabee was the only mainstream Republican candidate about whom that fact was acknowledged.”
For some reason, Hitchcock wants readers to think that permissive abortion wasn’t a crucial issue for The Wanderer or me as one of its writers. He hid evidence to the contrary. What was that he claimed in the Catholic Business Journal interview about having to examine other documents?
He simply ignored positive articles I wrote about McCain in The Wanderer during the 2008 presidential campaign season, even ones on the front page. He also ignored prominent pro-life articles I wrote, so, I guess, nothing would contradict his claim I favored “fanatically pro-abortion” Goldwater. And Hitchcock removed some positive references to the Republican Party in The Wanderer rather than acknowledge them – because he declared that The Wanderer did all it could to discredit the party.
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. Said Hitchcock:
“In 2009 (Aug. 6) Duggan placed his hopes in either conservative Democrats, a possible third party, or Sarah Palin” (p. 68 of ARFCP).
And where did the reference occur here to the third party that I supposedly hoped for?
In the same Wanderer article, I reported my interviews with the vice president of Family Research Council Action and the president of Concerned Women for America, as well as quoting from a Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan. Only the Concerned Women president noted possible voter interest in a third party, and this didn’t occur until starting with the 28th paragraph of my story. So Hitchcock had to read deeply into the story to find the third-party reference, but it wasn’t made by either Palin or me, and still he messed it up.
So deceptive, Dr. Hitchcock.