Better Angels

"...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ---Abraham Lincoln, First Innaugural Address

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Ballad of Barbara Bradley Hagerty

A few months ago, Atrios posted about the World Journalism Institute and outed NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty as a member of this right-wing Christian organization.

People began taking a closer look at Hagerty's work, especially her recent report on John Kerry's Eucharistic Issues. Alert Eschaton readers pointed out that the seemingly "random" parishoners Hagerty spoke to were in fact conservative Catholic movers and shakers Hagerty most likely already knew. As far as I know, not one reader who wrote to NPR's Omsbudsman to complain about this has received a reply.

Something about this story still niggled at me, so I started to do some research of my own. What I found was, to say the least, enlightening:

Barbara Bradley Hagerty graduated from Williams College in 1981 with a degree in Economics. She then interned at the Christian Science Monitor and subsequently worked for the paper and its related media for 11 years. She joined NPR in 1995 as a contract reporter after having become a born-again Christian while writing a story for The LA Times Sunday Magazine. She eventually became a full-time employee, reporting on the Justice Department, the Clinton Impeachment, 9-11 and starting last year, religion, replacing Duncan Moon as religion reporter.

Her religion reporting for NPR has focused mainly on Christianity, including a report on the Christian Science Church, in which she did not disclose that she was herself a former member of the Church. (This little tidbit is revealed in "Citizen Bradley," a Washingtonian article from October 2000 about her multimillionaire brother, Atlantic owner David Bradley. The article isn't online, but is available through LexisNexis.)

In addition to her NPR gig and her deal with the World Journalism Institute, Hagerty has been keeping busy with other writing and speaking engagements. She is on the board of directors for Knowing and Doing, the magazine of the C.S.Lewis Institute, which "endeavors to develop desciples who can articulate, defend and live faith in Christ through personal and public life." (emphasis mine)

More troubling still is her association with Howard Ahmanson's Fieldstead and Co. and Fieldstead Foundation. Ahmanson is a California millionaire who uses his trust fund to finance right-wing Christian, anti-gay, anti-evolution groups and politicians. He was previously associated with Christian Reconstructionism, which advocates a Biblically-based governement for the U.S. (Neither Ahmanson nor his philanthropic endeavors have their own websites. Make of that what you will.)

Hagerty has spoken twice at the Summer Institute of Journalism, a program run by the Council for Christian Colleges and University and funded by the Fieldstead Foundation. Student reactions to her talks are here.

Hagerty's keynote address to the 2003 National Student Media Convention was also sponsored by Fieldstead and Co. In 2003 she also spoke at the Baptist Press Student Journalism Conference, along with Terry Mattingly, a Scripps-Howard reporter who is also a Fieldstead grant recipient.

One final Ahmanson-Hagerty connection: Since June of 2003, Hagerty has reported on the Episcopal Church and gay issues 20 times. (Full disclosure: I am a liberal Episcopalian) She has often quoted members of the American Anglican Council, a conservative group seeking to break away from the Episcopal Church USA and join with more orthodox Anglicans worldwide. This group receives major behind the scenes funding from...you guessed it! Howard Ahmanson. (More here.)

Eschaton reader Dreaming Feet brought the NPR Ethics Guide to my attention, especially this portion:

V. Outside work, freelancing, speaking engagements
7. NPR journalists may only accept fees from educational or nonprofit
groups not engaged in significant lobbying or political activity.
Determining whether a group engages in significant lobbying or political
activity is the responsibility of the journalist seeking permission, and
all information must be fully disclosed to the journalist's supervisor.

8. NPR journalists may not speak to groups where the journalist's
appearance might put in question his or her impartiality. Such instances
include situations where the employee's appearance may appear to endorse
the agenda of a group or organization.

Hagerty's outside work certainly seems to violate both her employers ethics and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Independence and Integrity II: The Updated Ethics Guide for Public Radio Journalism.

Hagerty likes to say that God is her "employer and audience." She's wrong. God may be her Creator and Savior, but she is employed by the millions of Americans who donate to public radio and finance NPR programming. They deserve better. Contact Jeffery Dvorkin, NPR's Omsbudsman to complain about Hagerty's blatant conflict of interest and violation of professional ethics.