I heard about this bizarre occurrence of a very conservative Catholic historian going after a very conservative Catholic journalist, making him out to be something different, and was so jarred by his statements, which have significantly hurt the journalist’s career, that I thought it needed to be exposed. The left is already doing a good job of destroying conservatives, including threatening conservative organizations into canceling their employees, a significant problem in recent years. So why are we going after our own so viciously?
Dexter Duggan writes for The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic publication and the oldest national weekly Catholic paper in the U.S. Previously, he worked with Catholic historian and professor James Hitchcock when they were both contributing editors at the National Catholic Register. Hitchcock referred favorably to some of Duggan’s articles in his own column.
So Duggan was shocked when Hitchcock published a book called Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Catholic Politics in 2016 that misconstrued multiple things Duggan had written. The book purports to be a review of opposing Catholic views on abortion, but Duggan says it is really just an attack on two Catholic news sites, the National Catholic Reporter and Duggan’s conservative The Wanderer. Hitchcock said The Wanderer doesn’t regard abortion as a crucial issue, which isn’t true, it’s a core issue for the publication. Much of the problem with the book is Hitchcock ignores all the pro-life reporting Duggan and others at The Wanderer have done promoting the pro-life cause, pretending it doesn’t exist.
Duggan says, “Despite the broader-sounding title, much of the book is an attack on The Wanderer, including me as one of its writers.” He said Hitchcock has effectively gotten him portrayed as “a traitor to the pro-life cause and a bad-faith ‘Paleoconservative,’ neither which is true.” Of 20 pages that address Duggan, Duggan says only one thing about him is accurate.
Hitchcock said Duggan gave “unqualified support” to a “fanatically pro-abortion” politician. He was referring to Duggan’s writings 40 years ago about Barry Goldwater. But Duggan had a very nuanced, typical conservative pro-life view of Goldwater; he wasn’t an avid supporter of him at first due to his mediocre record on abortion in the Senate, but after Goldwater pledged support for a Human Life Amendment, winning the endorsement of nationally renowned pro-life doctor Carolyn Gerster, Duggan warmed up to him. After Goldwater safely won reelection to his last term in the Senate, and started reverting back to a less pro-life position, Duggan called him out for it in his articles. When Duggan wrote about Goldwater back at that time in 1981, Hitchcock had nothing but praise for his writing.
Duggan says much of Hitchcock’s criticisms of him bizarrely consist of taking quotes from people Duggan was reporting on and attributing them to Duggan instead. Hitchcock attributed a remark critical of John McCain — who Hitchcock apparently really likes, which is strange considering McCain’s mediocre record on pro-life issues as well as other issues — to Duggan that was actually made by Rob Haney, a Phoenix conservative activist who is also Catholic and known for his dislike of McCain. McCain angered Arizona Right to Life over his advocacy of taxpayer-funded fetal stem cell research.
Duggan explains, “Hitchcock reached all the way down to the 30th paragraph in my story in the September 19, 2013, Wanderer, to harvest that harsh comment likening McCain to ‘a mad scientist.’ Hitchcock wasn’t just grabbing for the first words he saw, but read deeply into the story for a nugget that suited his deceptive tactics.” When Duggan quoted a couple of political strategists predicting that conservatives would defeat McCain from getting reelected one year, Hitchcock attributed the quote to Duggan.
One of Duggan’s articles quoted a Washington Times reporter describing Sarah Palin, “she is eager to campaign for Republicans, independents, and even Democrats who share her values on limited government, strong defense, and ‘energy independence.’” Hitchcock twisted it to say, “In 2009 Duggan placed his hopes in either conservative Democrats, a possible third party, or Sarah Palin.” Duggan said this was part of Hitchcock’s effort to make The Wanderer look like it shirks Republicans.
The Global Catholic Network EWTN interviewed Hitchcock twice about his book. EWTN promoted the book and offered to take orders for it from the audience. Hitchcock portrayed himself as an authority on The Wanderer, saying he regularly read it and marked it up. Duggan said this was deceptive, considering Hitchcock ignored so much of The Wanderer’s coverage that contradicted his cherry-picked examples.
Duggan tried in vain to get the publishers and EWTN to correct the errors. He sent eight certified letters to EWTN about the errors, but they blew him off. He’s offered to appear on the network to explain his side, but they ignored his request. The Chips n Salsa show invited him on instead where he told his story. Hitchcock has only responded to him once, in 2019, with four curt sentences accusing him of being a bad Catholic.
Duggan has now been fighting to clear his name for over four years. Hitchcock’s book is widely circulated among Catholic conservatives, used as a textbook at 167 institutions around the world. It’s not clear why Hitchcock launched such a vicious attack on his former colleague. It may be due to the fact Hitchcock was a former Democrat, so he aligned more with McCain and less with Goldwater.
Duggan has such a wonderful, humorous style of writing that reading about his struggles pushing back against this attack is quite amusing. But it’s not funny because it’s destroying his reputation; many within the audience he caters to have heard about the criticism and are inclined to distance themselves from him. EWTN and the current publisher of Hitchcock’s book need to do the right thing and issue corrections. Four years of damage to Duggan’s reputation and thousands of dollars spent by him on attorneys all due to enabling a grudge. Contact Taylor & Francis and tell them they need to correct the wrong.