May 13, 2004

Hagerty recap

Several new developments on the Barbara Bradley Hagerty front since my initial post on the subject. Details below, but here are the main headlines:

1. Hagerty, responding through the NPR ombudsman, denies knowing any of the three right-wingers she quoted in the piece.

2. Biblio at Better Angels uncovers evidence refuting this claim.

After Atrios' posts exposing right-wing connections of the "random" parishioners, a flood of people complained to NPR. The ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, addressed the complaints in his last column. Actually, he doesn't make any pronouncements himself, but rather gives Hagerty's response. Here it is in full:
You pointed out something that many people have called me on in that story: namely, that I did not identify the weekday Mass-goers as more conservative than, for example, Sunday Mass-goers. I was remiss on that point, and it's a mistake I'll not make again. The reason I interviewed people on a weekday is that I was assigned the story on Monday night and it was due on Thursday afternoon, so I had no other option... I stood outside the church last Wednesday morning, and asked everyone who would stop to talk with me. I did not know who they were; I had never seen any of these people before. They identified themselves as "policy analyst," "professor," "union official," etc. Mr. Flynn, who seems to be the most controversial, stopped so briefly that I could not even get his profession, so I had no idea what he did.
This is a classic non-denial denial, since it doesn't directly address any of the most serious problems with her report. The one error she admits to is not pointing out that "weekday Mass-goers as more conservative than, for example, Sunday Mass-goers." Well, perhaps she didn't do that because she never identified the Mass as a weekday Mass in the first place. Check the transcript:
HAGERTY: Surveys from Georgetown University show that the number one issue for Catholics in 2000 was the economy. Taxing, spending and government programs came in second. Moral issues were a distant third.

(Soundbite from a Mass)

HAGERTY: But tell that to the worshipers at the 8:00 Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. All but one interviewed there on a recent morning said they won't vote for Kerry. They said they knew he personally thought abortion was wrong but that his stand on abortion rights had a larger meaning. Here's Philip Monos(ph), Carrie Gress(ph) and Ted Flynn.
The sequence of these two paragraphs makes it clear that the weekday parishioners at St. Matthew's were used to refute the Georgetown surveys. I mean, what impact would this bit have had if it had read like this:
Surveys from Georgetown University show that the number one issue for Catholics in 2000 was the economy. Taxing, spending and government programs came in second. Moral issues were a distant third. But tell that to the disproportionately devout, conservative weekday worshipers at St. Matthew's Cathedral in an affluent Washington neighborhood convenient to several think tanks and politically connected institutions.
Doesn't pack quite the same punch, does it? So it's not just that Hagerty left out a critical piece of information; the story was constructed in a way that made the piece impossible to put in.

And as the Ginsu folks would say, But Wait, There's More. Is it really true that Hagerty "had never seen any of these people before"? In my original post, I noted that Hagerty had attended a conference last December called "Toward an Understanding of Religion and American Public Life" organized by Carrie Gress' employer, the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I've since discovered that she has attended this annual event at least three times, in addition to three other EPPC events, dating back to 2000 (sources here, here, here, here and here). So Hagerty knows the EPPC well, but that of course doesn't prove she knows Gress, the program director of the EPPC's Catholic Studies Program. Well, look at what Biblio found: the list of participants at the December conference. Of the 39 participants, 37 were neither Hagerty nor Gress. 39 people, 3 days, a Key West hotel, yet Hagerty says, "I had never seen any of these people before."

Next, consider the last part of Hagerty's defense: They identified themselves as "policy analyst," "professor," "union official," etc. Mr. Flynn, who seems to be the most controversial, stopped so briefly that I could not even get his profession, so I had no idea what he did.

Notice she doesn't address the fact that in her report, the only person she identified by occupation was the pro-Kerry "union official". Why didn't she use the other titles? Certainly "policy analyst" should have rung a warning bell or two: what kind of policy?

Flynn may be the most controversial in terms of his own politics - of the three wingnuts, he's the nuttiest - but in terms of the plausibility of Hagerty not knowing them or even who they are, he's the least controversial, as he's the least connected to Hagerty's reporting beat. Gress is clearly the most connected, but Muñoz, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has written on religion and politics for the National Review, should perhaps also have been a known quantity.

On a smaller point, the claim that her chat with Flynn was brief conflicts with Flynn's own account, wherein he claims that he gave Hagerty some 9 or 10 useable sound bites. Of course, if he is as crazy as he sounds, he may have ranted for a few seconds and run off. It's possible.

Atrios reader Flyroper received an email reply from Hagerty that he graciously forwarded to me. Part of it matches what was printed by Dvorkin, but there was more, including this bit:
Atrios (I don't know his real name) looked these people up on the internet and found he didn't like their credentials. (And I must say that he misrepresented one person who works at the Ethics and Public Policy Center as "right wing" -- the Center is highly respected and follows policy issues from a Catholic, Protestant and Jewish standpoint. I don't know anything about the others he criticized). My point is, I do not select people for their political or religious affiliations; I beg anyone who has time to talk with me!
Okay, let's parse this piece by piece.

[Atrios] found he didn't like their credentials

More to the point, he found they had right-wing credentials. Author of a New World Order conspiracy book? American Enterprise Institute fellow/National Review author? Not exactly "man on the street" stuff.

And I must say that he misrepresented one person who works at the Ethics and Public Policy Center as "right wing" -- the Center is highly respected and follows policy issues from a Catholic, Protestant and Jewish standpoint

It's not clear if she means he misrepresented Gress in particular or the EPPC in general, but either way it's hard to come to any other conclusion. Gress' own comments to Hagerty reveal her ideological biases, and there's also this article in which Gress says "it was through Christianity that women’s equality to men was acknowledged" while dismissing women's stuggles for equality in the Church hierarchy. And others have already highlighted the EPPC's right-wing underwriters and current and former administrators (including that paragon of ethics himself, Elliott Abrams). But the strangest part of this bit of the email is Hagerty's apparent equation of "a Catholic, Protestant and Jewish standpoint" with "not right wing". It's not like right-wing Catholics, Protestants, and Jews are in short supply in the media pundit/think tank circuit.

My point is, I do not select people for their political or religious affiliations; I beg anyone who has time to talk with me!

Well this is of course patently false; she did select these folks for their religious affiliations. I assume she meant only to say "political affiliations". But even if it's true that she doesn't select these people, she can't honestly claim to be ignorant of the likelihood that people with particular political affiliations are going to select her when she's standing in front of a Catholic church after a weekday Mass begging for commentary on John Kerry. And so, even giving Hagerty the benefit of every doubt (including allowing for the possiblity that Carrie Gress skipped the conference and spent the three days hanging out on the beach), it was less than ethical to solicit political opinions from a sample population she knew to be skewed rightward, present them to the public as average Catholic sentiment, and then claim ignorance when found out.