Did Hudson think he could make this story go away?

Hang on. I don’t say he “deserved” it. I do say that he should have expected it, and was foolish to have thought that he could get involved in secular politics at his level and not have it come out. His hubris, as much as the act itself, brought about this act of self-immolation. As someone famous said recently, you can’t be naive if you want to play in that sandbox.

Posted by: Rod Dreher | August 25, 2004 12:40 PM

It’s no surprise, I guess, that there are waves of interesting ideas and questions in the comments section of the Deal Hudson post. One of the big questions remains: Was the National Catholic Reporter story a “hit job”?

Come on folks, of course it was a hit job. But it was also a valid news story. Remember that NCR is a partisan publication. It’s in a doctrinal war with orthodox Roman Catholics (and, on another level, this White House) and the purpose of the story — however that purpose is worded — was to take somebody down. On the flip side, see the Clinton era. Many hit jobs? Yes. Many valid stories? Yes.

What could have improved the NCR piece?

It appears, of course, that Hudson did not do an interview with them that would tell his side. I can understand that. To do that interview would have required trusting NCR.

But let’s stop and think about this, since this blog is in the business of encouraging the coverage of religion news in mainstream media. Hang in there with me. What if Hudson had granted that NCR interview? (Let’s assume that he can speak, without violating some kind of settlement agreement a decade ago.) And what if he had granted that interview on the condition that he could tape it, as well. Then he could run the transcript on a website or print it in Crisis. Last time I checked, he was associated with a magazine of his own, correct?

In other words, the story is going to come out. And the NCR report contains part of the story. A valid part of the story. A damning part of the story. The NCR story contained the sin and some of the punishment. However, if any journalist is going to be able to detail the repentance and the reality of the life AFTER THE FALL, then that information would have to come through Hudson and his contacts. Correct? Who else can talk about that?

This is part of what I was trying to say about the tragedy of major stories breaking in partisan media. This is a journalism job for Richard Ostling at the Associated Press — QUICK!

One more thing. Let me assign everyone to read Chapter 10 of the revised edition of Chris Matthews’ “Hardball.” It’s called “Hang A Lantern on Your Problem.” The key section deals with a less explosive issue, but the principles are still relevant. When faced with nasty comments about his age, Ronald Reagan made this a central theme OF HIS campaign.

Matthews writes:

“In slaying the age issue, Reagan had also demonstrated an important lesson of politics: if a question has been raised publicly about your own personal background, you need to address the issue personally.”

The question, of course, is whether religious conservatives can trust the mainstream media to serve up balanced, accurate and in any way nuanced reports that will tell their side as well as the side of the critics. The hard truth is that a 50-50 news report is a bloody miracle in the current media climate, where the sexual revolution has defined the sacred cows in most newsrooms and not just the openly partisan ones.

But, again, did Hudson think that the story was not going to get printed? Did he think no one would read an NCR story? Did he actually think, as many conservatives do, that they could hinder the printing of a partisan story by refusing to cooperate?

Get real. Faced with NCR printing large chunks of the truth about his past, his only real option — rather than writing a small insider piece for National Review — was to jump right on the issue in a media forum that was more powerful and more dedicated to fairness than the Catholic enemy that wanted his head.

Any suggestions on the newspaper or wire service to which he should have offered the story? I say Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post.

UPDATE: Catholic Exchange has a new commentary up on this sad affair. Here is a long, and gracefully sane, passage from this editorial.

Deal Hudson portrayed his becoming a confidant of the Bush team as something he was tapped for rather than as something he actively sought. Be that as it may, it is surely the fact that regardless of whether he put himself forward or was brought into the limelight, he has known all along about this sordid incident lurking in the background, and he could have demurred — it is our opinion that he should have. Poor judgment on his part left his vulnerabilities open to attack, and it is therefore correct for him to say that he let many people down. But even as we forgive, we beg our fellow Catholics to regard this as a cautionary tale. …

If you are a Catholic seeking to serve the Church or your country and you have a scandalizing secret that you never want your children to read in the papers or on the web, keep a low profile. There is much to be done — in fact most of the work of building God’s Kingdom is being done — in the background, out of the public eye, and you are indispensable in only two positions: being a husband or wife to your spouse and a father or mother to your children.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Rod Dreher

    I think Hudson should have talked to Joe Feuerherd at NCR, and taped the conversation. It would have been a painful conversation, but I think it would have served him better to have talked about it.

    This reminds me of a recent story I had a part in here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I learned by accident that the assistant pastor at the Catholic parish I was attending had been formally suspended by his diocese in Pennsylvania over sex abuse allegations, which have yet to be resolved. The pastor of the parish had determined on his own that the allegations were false, and decided to let the priest come serve mass on the weekend and help out around the parish. The pastor never told his bishop about this — a clear and serious violation of the Charter.

    Long story short: I phoned the pastor on a Saturday, told him what I’d learned, and told him that for various reasons, the media were going to be calling him asking him questions about it. He said that he simply wouldn’t talk to them. I told him he had to talk to them, because the chancery back in Pennsylvania had already put out a statement to the press saying that the priest in question was working in a Texas parish, in violation of the chancery’s order.

    When a reporter from the Dallas Morning News tried to get in touch with both the priest in question and the pastor of the parish, they stonewalled her. She eventually wrote a story, and said they declined to talk to her. The pastor went ballistic, and railed against the evil media with its anti-Catholic agenda, yadda yadda yadda. I say: what self-serving cr*p. If you won’t talk to the press and give your side of the story, you can’t complain when the story they eventually report is unbalanced.

    To my knowledge, Hudson hasn’t done this, but many of his blogosphere defenders have.

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet @ The Revealer

    Rod makes a good point. Hudson should have talked to NCR not just because he was a public figure, but because, as editor of Crisis, he is ostensibly a journalist himself. And journalists should have respect for the open flow of information.

    I’m not a public figure, but I’ve written articles and co-authored a book that made people want to interview me. Some of those people believed very different things than me, some were even hostile, but to date I’ve never said no. Not even to a Philadelphia Weekly reporter who called and first thing told me she thought I was a bastard. If you don’t talk to the press, you shouldn’t be surprised when your point of view isn’t represented.

  • Brian Lewis

    I’m not sure I buy the argument that the National Catholic Reporter is “the enemy” and therefore won’t be fair. I mean, they’re not secular humanists but fellow Catholics. I’ve also never heard that they have a reputation for wildly slandering people. Instead, I’ve heard they are a highly respected newspaper, one with somewhat liberal convictions.

    I haven’t studied NCR’s history but I don’t think it helps for any Catholic commentator to call them an enemy.

  • the enemy, I guess

    “I’m not sure I buy the argument that the National Catholic Reporter is ‘the enemy’ and therefore won’t be fair. I mean, they’re not secular humanists…”

    “and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dear enemy:

    First of all, please sign your posts. It is what we do in this blog. Even Cosmo.

    The National Catholic Reporter is a very important newspaper. It is considered the trendsetter on the Catholic left and some of its reporters are clearly top notch.

    But it is a fiercely partisan paper, in the culture wars that divide American Catholics. Expecting NCR to treat an orthodox Catholic fairly would be like turning to Focus on the Family for insights into the life and career of Elton John.

  • Tom Harmon

    Forgive me for bringing journalistic ethics (insert joke here) into the conversation, but something’s been bugging me about this story. A lot of the apologists for the Reporter piece, including Rod, whom I respect a great deal, are defending the piece because it was newsworthy. According to what standard? Should Catholic journalists publish stories based only on whether a secular audience would find a piece of information titillating? If a man has sinned, confessed, been absolved, and demonstrated a firm purpose of amendment, is his sin newsworthy to the Catholic anymore? To any Christian?

  • Rod Dreher

    Tom writes: ” A lot of the apologists for the Reporter piece, including Rod, whom I respect a great deal, are defending the piece because it was newsworthy. According to what standard? Should Catholic journalists publish stories based only on whether a secular audience would find a piece of information titillating? If a man has sinned, confessed, been absolved, and demonstrated a firm purpose of amendment, is his sin newsworthy to the Catholic anymore? To any Christian?”

    Well, a lot of people would consider this information from Deal Hudson’s background relevant to his status as a moral and political leader among Catholics. But the real point, and one that’s very difficult to talk about without gossiping — so I’m going to be very careful here — has to do with the “firm purpose of amendment” business. Let me be absolutely clear: I have no idea if Deal cheated on his wife after this 1994 incident. But there is a reason the NCR reporter had trouble finding anybody in Deal’s philosophical circles to say anything good about him, and there’s a reason why you haven’t seen prominent conservative Catholics who know him rushing to defend him, as did conservatives when Bill Bennett got in trouble with the gambling mess. I think I’m on solid ground in suggesting that there is something about the way he treats people that causes folks who know him or who have observed him up close to doubt him in some way, or at least to feel that the NCR piece wasn’t the unethical smear job that many blog commentators who don’t move in these circles believe it to be.

  • http://pleroma.typepad.com/ Chris Jones

    Rod,

    It’s clear that you (and perhaps many other conservative Catholics who know him) don’t care for Mr Hudson very much. Your personal acquaintance with him may give you some insight into the question of his degree of “firm purpose of amendment”. But that does not make his private affairs – no matter how sordid – a matter of public interest and it does not make this story legitimate news. Gossip is gossip, no matter how many people think the subject of it is a big jerk – even if he is one.

    As I commented on my own weblog:

    “Evidently Mr Hudson sinned. That is not, in itself, news. Nor was the nature of his sin, grievous as it was, unusual enough to become news. It is not as if this is the first time that a married man took advantage of a vulnerable young woman. A grievous matter for those involved, but not news.

    “So what is the retailing of another man’s sins, when it is not legitimately news? Simple: it is gossip.”

  • Harris

    “So what is the retailing of another man’s sins, when it is not legitimately news? Simple: it is gossip.”

    However the issue of secrecy is not. In an administration that has based a significant part of its electoral draw on moral issues, questions of the morality of its key advisors on moral issues is very much part of the equation. Moreover, the actions of conservatives in the 90s, both in their attacks on various Clinton administration members, including the president, as well as their silence about the failings of their own proponents, sets the context where information such as Mr. Deal’s past must be considered newsworthy. That, or admit to having two standards, one for your friends and another for your enemies.

  • http://pleroma.typepad.com Chris Jones

    Harris,

    The supposed emphasis of the Bush administration on moral issues is, even if true, a red herring. Mr Hudson was a member of the campaign, not of the administration, and his portfolio was political strategy vis-vis an identifiable voting demographic, not policy advice on “moral issues” or anything else. It’s hardly a basis on which to claim that all of his private affairs are the public’s business.

    And to claim that the Clinton/Lewinsky/impeachment saga is in any way relevant to this issue is ludicrous. The only thing that they have in common is that they involve sin of a sexual nature. They differ in two important ways: first, the President of the United States is a public figure in a way that a low-level political operative could never be; second, the way the two men handled their similar moral failings is quite different. In the one case, the guilty man accepted his guilt and faced the moral, professional, and financial consequences of his sin like a man. In the other case, the guilty man lied, conspired, spun, and deployed all the resources of his office and political influence to evade responsibility for his actions (and he succeeded). Clinton now retains great popularity in his party, earns millions from speaking fees and from his turgid and interminable memoirs, and enjoys a reputation among many as no worse than a “lovable rogue”. Hudson, on the other hand, is now being made to pay for his sins yet again, with the loss of another job and the loss of his reputation.

    When Deal Hudson perjures himself to avoid the consequences of his sins, you can talk to me about how comparable it is to the Clinton scandals.

  • BA

    Rod:

    “I think I’m on solid ground in suggesting that there is something about the way he treats people that causes folks who know him or who have observed him up close to doubt him in some way, or at least to feel that the NCR piece wasn’t the unethical smear job that many blog commentators who don’t move in these circles believe it to be.”

    Hearsay.

  • http://dprice.blogspot.com Dale Price

    “I’m not sure I buy the argument that the National Catholic Reporter is “the enemy” and therefore won’t be fair. I mean, they’re not secular humanists but fellow Catholics. I’ve also never heard that they have a reputation for wildly slandering people. Instead, I’ve heard they are a highly respected newspaper, one with somewhat liberal convictions.

    I haven’t studied NCR’s history but I don’t think it helps for any Catholic commentator to call them an enemy.”

    You really need to research the history of this paper. Apart from the John Allen column, the paper is predictably–almost hysterically–a card-carrying member of the hard left. Two recent examples should suffice. In its editorial of 2/20/04, the Reporter endorsed gay marriage:

    http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2004a/022004/022004r.htm

    They also accepted blood money for an ad by Frances Kissling’s pro-abort front organization, “Catholics for a Free Choice.” (I can’t find the link yet).

    The paper is not “somewhat liberal”–that title belongs to the generally decent and honorable “Commonweal.” NCRep is a leftist periodical whose raison d’etre is the relentless denigration of traditional Catholic teaching and morality. If there’s a substantive difference between the NCRep line and the decaying “progressive” mainline Protestantism seen in the dominant wings of Episcopal and UC Churches, I haven’t seen it.

    “Enemy” sound harsh, but if the shoe fits….

  • Tom Harmon

    Harris,

    There is, indeed, a double standard: one for those who have repented, confessed, and been absolved. One for those who have not. Hudson belongs, from all reports, to the former, while Clinton clearly belongs to the latter.

    That’s the Christian take. If we were talking about the Washington Post or Time Magazine, I’d say that one cannot expect a Christian ethical standard. The National Catholic Reporter is not a secular periodical, though. It must be held to higher standards.

  • Brian Lewis

    After reading that the National Catholic Reporter 1) published an editorial in favor of gay marriage and 2) allowed Catholics for a Free Choice to pay for an ad I am not convinced that they are an evil publication intent on twisting the news and destroying the church.

    I will study this paper more in depth at some point but at almost every credible newspaper in the country that I know of – and, by most reports the Reporter is credible – what’s written on the editorial page does not influence news coverage and the actions of the advertising department does not influence news coverage.

    That being said, if you’ve got any articles or books on the history of the National Catholic Reporter I’d be interested in learning more.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Is anyone going to address my question of WHICH secular, mainstream news outlet Hudson should have pitched this story to, rather than letting it appear first, and be defined, in the pages of National Catholic Reporter?

  • Rod Dreher

    Chris Jones: It’s clear that you (and perhaps many other conservative Catholics who know him) don’t care for Mr Hudson very much.

    Chris, I hardly know the man. Honestly. But what he did was not just “sin;” it was date rape, and that’s a crime.

  • Rod Dreher

    Chris, again: Mr Hudson was a member of the campaign, not of the administration, and his portfolio was political strategy vis-vis an identifiable voting demographic, not policy advice on “moral issues” or anything else.

    That’s not true. Go back and read the clips from 2001, when Bush made his decision on federal embryonic stem-cell research funding. Deal Hudson was deeply involved in helping the president reach a political compromise that would be acceptable to conservative Catholics.

  • Rod Dreher

    Brian: “Hearsay.”

    Look, I’m not trying to convict the man. I’m just trying to help people understand the clues a journalist looks at in trying to figure out the ethics of a story, and what, if anything, is the story behind the story. And I’m trying to do so without trafficking in rumors or saying things that cannot be backed up with publicly available facts.

  • BA

    Rod:

    “Look, I’m not trying to convict the man. I’m just trying to help people understand the clues a journalist looks at in trying to figure out the ethics of a story, and what, if anything, is the story behind the story. And I’m trying to do so without trafficking in rumors or saying things that cannot be backed up with publicly available facts.”

    Although you’re not trying to convict him in a court of law, you are arguing that his conduct represents a kind of clear and present danger that means the public has a need to know. This is, as I understand it, the only justification for publishing what the NCRep did. Otherwise what they printed was salacious detraction.

    I grant that a journalist has to follow up on these kinds of things, but to my knowledge the NCRep did not come up with verifiable facts that would warrant a public “need to know” or they are just too sloppy and unprofessional to provide it. I can’t imagine the latter’s the case given that, whatever their sins in the matter, they have demonstrated their acuity in detailed reporting.

    In short, maybe the journalist in question felt like these things shouldn’t just “stay put.” If so, he had an obligation to take the information to the board of Crisis Magazine and let them handle it and/or seek the ear of someone in the Bush Admin. to let them know what he had found. If the reporter really felt that this information could not just sit, that would have been a discrete and honorable way to discharge his burden.

    The journalist chose not to do that, winning glory for his journalistic career and partisan agenda but God knows what for his immortal soul.

    And yes, Deal should have taken the same tack with Ono Ekeh, going to the USCCB rather than his reading public with the information that got Ekeh let go. But, again, two wrongs don’t make a right. That the journalist in question can take Deal to task for his indiscretion–journalistic not sexual–and not see the plank in his own eye as he was writing, well, I better stop there because I am a sinner too.

  • http://dprice.blogspot.com Dale Price

    Brian:

    “I will study this paper more in depth at some point but at almost every credible newspaper in the country that I know of – and, by most reports the Reporter is credible – what’s written on the editorial page does not influence news coverage and the actions of the advertising department does not influence news coverage.”

    Really? News coverage never follows the direction of the publisher or the managing editor of a newspaper? The tenure of Howell Raines at the Times says different.

    If you want to believe that, fine. I think the Wall Street Journal is a credible newspaper, but I won’t hold my breath for the investigative series which sets forth the superiority of a single-payer health care system.

    Likewise, I think the Christian Science Monitor is a credible newspaper (especially on foreign affairs), but it will be quite a wait for news stories which are skeptical of the success rate of Christian Science healing practices.

    Likewise, it would be inadvisable to hold one’s breath for the NCRep news piece bringing to light the problems in the sees run by Roger Cardinal Mahony or the late Bishop Kenneth Untener. Nor should we expect a panting, Penthouse Forum-ish expose’ done on a liberal Catholic public figure by the Reporter, either.

    Why? Because Tom Fox and Tom Roberts are extremely liberal Catholics with their own vision of what the Church should be–and the news will flow accordingly. Especially when you employ advocacy “correspondents” like Boston’s Chuck Colbert, whose pre-commitments will influence reportage on major issues like the Scandal.

    Are there decent journalists at the Reporter? Sure–As of ten days ago, I would have given you two names: John Allen and Joseph Feuerherd. As of this week, I’ll stick with the first.

    Books about the Reporter? I think the paper self-published a history, but I’m not aware of any independent effort chronicling it.

    [P.S. The point about the ad should have been more obvious, I guess--it's not "somewhat liberal" for a professedly Catholic organization to give a stump to a dogmatically pro-abortion organization such as CFFC. The private businesses they are, newspapers can and routinely do reject ads from organizations or messages they don't want to be associated with. Imagine the furor if "Crisis" published an ad by the Institute for Historical Review, for example. Nobody would be talking about some hermetic seal between the ad department and the rest of the magazine. But the Rep gladly taking CFFC's cash is somehow different, I guess.]

  • http://pleroma.typepad.com/ Chris Jones

    Rod,

    As to the distinction between political consultant and policy advisor, I stand corrected. But I don’t think that gives Harris the right to make the administration’s alleged moralism the “context” that makes it all right to air out Deal Hudson’s dirty laundry.

    You characterize this as “date rape.” But the issue is not the nature of the act, but whether or not it is any of our business. Some people have a hard time believing that something can be, at one and the same time, a grievous and great evil and something that is not our concern. Neither you nor I have standing to accuse Hudson of a crime in this matter; and she who had such standing chose – for whatever reason – not to press that charge. Or perhaps the DA declined to prosecute. In either case, once that decision was taken, it ceased to be a public matter. Your opinion that it was a crime does not change that.

    I remain unconvinced that this was a legitimate news story.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com bob smietana

    Rod:

    Since the discussion on Hudson is taking place in blogs and not in the Washington Post and NY Times, hasn’t he made the story go away by preemptively resigning?

    The NCR (a publication that has run some of my work) got what it wanted–they took down Hudson. It was a legitimate story and a hit job, as well as being a classic case of reaping what you sow–when Hudson showed no remorse in getting Ono Ekeh, a man with three young kids, fired, he opened the door for his own fall.

    He knew he was going to fall hard, and get very ugly, so he went out on his own terms. In doing so, he went on offense and stole NCR’s story. It’s brilliant PR, and might just save his job at Crisis.


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