The gauche that haunts me

Not sure how kosher it is to mention our own work on this website but I've been up late for the last few nights pounding out a few drafts of a story on the Deal Hudson flap for the website of The American Spectator. The tawdry tale is of interest for several reasons, including a few which have yet to be explored by the senior bloggers of this site. For what it's worth, I agree with Jeff Sharlet that the media has not given enough coverage to this story, both when it first broke in August and now in what appears to be its final act.

In August, the New York Times covered the story but it did so by assigning conservative primatologist David Kirkpatrick to do the honors. I have nothing against Kirkpatrick (fine reporter, interesting writer, etc.) but by tapping its man on the conservative beat to cover the story, the Times effectively said that it wasn't interested in digging any further.

This time around, the Washington Times had a great story by Julia Duin and the Washington Post ran a brief item on page A9, buried under a notice about Senator John Kerry's gains among Jewish voters. A restricted Nexis search for "Deal w/1 Hudson" for the last 60 days turned up only 44 items, many of those brief items in religion news digests.

It's a shame that more reporters didn't dig deeper because the best conflicts tend to be religious squabbles. Two things I tried to capture in my Spectator piece:

* The National Catholic Reporter scoop was made possible not by opposition researchers at, say, Catholics for Choice, but by conservative Catholics with axes to grind. Once Hudson's charges of partisanship have had time to settle, it's pretty clear that Deal was done in by his own crowd's willingness to stick in the dagger.

* The revelations brough out some interesting -- some would say troubling -- strains of traditionalist Catholic thinking.

On this second point, Mark Shea wrote an article for the Catholic Exchange that is worth quoting at length:

I suppose, from a purely journalistic perspective, untrammeled by all that stuff about the Sacrament of Confession, teaching against the sin of detraction, teaching on charity, the centrality of the family and the rest, a reporter could evoke the all-excusing genie of the "Public's Right to Know" as a "reason" for this contemptible hit piece written with no other object in mind than to destroy somebody whose politics are inimical to the editorial posture of the National "Catholic" Reporter.

But the National "Catholic" Reporter is supposed to be, well, Catholic. It is supposed to shed the light of Catholic Social Teaching so that those Awful Right-Wingers who practice the politics of personal destruction will understand true Peace and Justice. Yet viewed from a Catholic rather than a purely journalistic perspective, I can see no justification whatsoever for this shameful slime job. None.

Shea went on to argue, in all seriousness, that the Reporter's reporting violated the Sacrament of Confession. Over at the Envoy weblog (which doesn't have permalinks) Patrick Madrid didn't go quite as far but raised questions that the story might promote the sin of detraction.

Right now, most everybody who voiced objection to the Reporter story is backtracking but the opposition to the the idea of the story even being exposed in the first place was both real and deeply felt. Interviewing Patrick Madrid for the story (and I'd like to break from journalistic objectivity for a second to say that he came across as the nicest guy) I asked him if there was a tension between Catholicism and journalism. It is to his credit, I think, that he paused and then answered honestly: "I don't think there's a tension between Catholicism and good journalism." Later in the same exchange, he said that he spoke up because he wanted to discourage "needless trafficking in the details" of the story, particularly the salacious aspects.

Rod Dreher, outspoken crunchy conservative Catholic assistant editorial page editor at the Dallas Morning News, had a different point of view. In an e-mail he replied to Shea's original broadside:

What it gets down to is this question: Can one be both a good journalist and a good Catholic? I fail to see why a journalist, Catholic or not, has to pay any attention to whether or not a public figure like Deal Hudson has gone to confession over his sins. The issue in this case was the sordid and abusive past of a conservative Catholic leader who had placed himself in an advisory capacity to the president of the United States, specifically in an effort to get him re-elected by telling him how to appeal to Catholics. That's a news story.

You think?

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