Thursday, May 12, 2005

A TALE OF GROTESQUE HYPOCRISY. According to a lengthy report on the Nation's website, Dr. David Hager, who as an adviser to the Bush administration helped deep-six FDA support for the morning-after pill, has been accused by his ex-wife of anally raping her over many years, often initiating his approaches while she was in a narcoleptic stupor.

The article, by Ayelish McGarvey, is a disturbing look at the alleged hypocrisy of an evangelical Christian. Hager, an OBGYN, has written six books with titles like As Jesus Cared for Women, which McGarvey describes as "self-help tomes that interweave syrupy Christian spirituality with paternalistic advice on women's health and relationships."

The sexual-assault charges leveled by Hager's ex-wife, Linda Carruth Davis, are pretty horrifying. And they raise an interesting media-ethics issue: what does a mainstream news organization do when explosive accusations like this are reported by another media outlet?

The Washington Post's solution today is to report the policy news that's contained in McGarvey's article, but not the sodomy. Both the Post's Marc Kaufman and the Nation make much of a videotape of a talk given by Hager at Asbury College, in Kentucky, last October. During that talk, Hager boasted of his role, as a member of an FDA advisory board, in stopping a proposal to make the Plan B morning-after birth-control pill easier to obtain.

During the talk, Hager said, "I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision. Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good." Faith-based science, indeed.

Now, the Post certainly knew about the sexual-abuse allegations, because Kaufman's article includes this: "The videotape of Hager's sermon was first obtained by the magazine the Nation, which published a story about the doctor today [Wednesday]." But that's as far as the Post is willing to go.

The Post is following good ethical standards. It is clear from the context that Kaufman himself was able to watch the videotape. He also obtained comment from Hager and others. The sex stuff is another matter - he would have essentially had to re-report McGarvey's story, and there's no way he could have done that in a matter of hours. So good on the Post for not simply reporting the Nation's allegations without double-checking them. (And if there is a critic's exemption, let me invoke it right here.)

But now the mainstream media have a decision to make. Will they follow up the Nation's reporting by pursuing this tale of grotesque hypocrisy - hypocrisy that, if fully pursued, could place Hager in some legal jeopardy? Or are they going to take a pass on this?

The analogy to Bill Clinton's sex life doesn't quite work. On the one hand, he was the president, which made him a far bigger and more legitimate target than Hager. On the other hand, as McGarvey notes, Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was legal and consensual; what Linda Davis alleges is anything but.

It seems to me that when credible allegations are made that a Bush adviser who helped kill an important health initiative for women may have a history of sexual abuse against his ex-wife, that's a story that ought to be fleshed out in some detail.

Addendum: in 2002, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote a piece for National Review Online claiming that the left was piling on poor Dr. Hager because of his religious views. It will be interesting to see whether Lopez writes a follow-up.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. The religious right (and a few liberals) already have broadcasters on the run with their crusade against indecency. Coming up: cable, satellite, and - just possibly - the Internet. With a legal analysis by Harvey Silverglate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is obviously no excuse for whatever sloppy reporting Newsweek may have committed, and the fact that 16 people have died in rioting because of the story obviously looms large.

The rioting was because of the Newsweek story? Puh-leeze... As Gen Myers (as well as common sense) points out, this unrest was fullblown without the two sentences in Newsweek.