Rick Santorum's baby - a follow-up from Mehdi Hasan

Damian Thompson and others on the right are trying to demonise me for reporting a story that Santorum's baby died at childbirth.

The reaction to my recent blogpost, "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum...", has prompted me to write this follow-up. In my original post, I covered some of Santorum's outrageous views (he wants to bomb Iran and dismisses global warming as "junk science"), as well as semi-amusing bits of trivia: for example, he is friends with U2's Bono and he once defended the World Wrestling Federation in court.

I also included, without any supporting comment, criticism or rebuke:

8) When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, Santorum and his wife spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home where, joined by their other children, they prayed over it, cuddled with it and welcomed the baby into the family.

We live in an era of faux-outrage and Twitterstorms so, predictably, I've since been attacked by a coalition of indignant pundits and pontificators who couldn't be bothered to read what I actually wrote: from Telegraph columnists to left-wing bloggers to right-wing Republicans across the pond. The levels of outrage (outrage!) are on the rise. Anyone would think that (a) I had criticised Santorum for the way in which he handled his son's tragic death, or (b) that I was the first to introduce this story into the public domain (perhaps having rifled through his bins or having hacked into his personal email account). Neither inference is true.

For the record, Karen Santorum, Rick's wife, chronicled both the pregnancy and the wider US partial-birth abortion debate in her 1998 book, Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. The book takes the form of letters Karen wrote to her unborn son, including the one where she writes:

When the partial-abortion vote comes to the floor of the U.S. Senate for the third time, your daddy needs to proclaim God's message for life with even more strength and devotion to the cause.

In May 2005, in a New York Times magazine profile of Santorum, entitled "The Believer", Michael Sokolove wrote:

What happened after the death is a kind of snapshot of a cultural divide. Some would find it discomforting, strange, even ghoulish -- others brave and deeply spiritual. Rick and Karen Santorum would not let the morgue take the corpse of their newborn; they slept that night in the hospital with their lifeless baby between them. The next day, they took him home. ''Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!" Karen writes in the book, which takes the form of letters to Gabriel, mostly while he is in utero.

In October 2005, in a Philadelphia City Paper profile of Santorum, headlined "The Path of the Righteous", Mike Newall wrote:

Gabriel Michael Santorum lived for only two hours. The Santorums spent the night in the hospital bed with their lifeless baby lying between them. The next morning they brought the palm-sized corpse to Karen's parent's house. They had their other children pose for pictures and cuddle with Gabriel. They sang lullabies and held a private mass.

On 2 January 2012, New York Times columnist, card-carrying conservative and Santorum sympathiser, David Brooks, wrote:

Santorum does not have a secular worldview. This is not just a matter of going to church and home-schooling his children. When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, he and his wife, a neonatal nurse, spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home -- praying over it and welcoming it, with their other kids, into the family. This story tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people but inspiring to many of the more devout.

On 6 January 2012, ABC News published a long, online feature, on the health section of its website, headlined:

Experts: Rick Santorum Grief Is Typical, But Taking Body Home, Unusual

Yet, I'm now being pilloried and castigated for daring to mention this fact (and, that too, in passing!), which (1) has been in the public domain for more than a decade, (2) was introduced into the public domain by Santorum's wife in book form, (3) may have influenced Santorum's votes in the US Senate, and (4) has been discussed, time and again, not just in newspaper profiles of Santorum, but in recent articles by supportive, centre-right journalists (David Brooks) and neutral TV news organisations (ABC News). The whole thing is bizarre; a classic, manufactured, online controversy. As I said at the start, I went out of my way not to criticize Santorum for the way he behaved after this horrible personal tragedy in his life (despite, incidentally, others having done so); I just reported it. And I did so, you might note, in a blogpost called: "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum..." - not "10 bad/evil/crazy/right-wing things you didn't know about Rick Santorum"!

One last, semi-related point: oddball Telegraph blogger and columnist Damian Thompson used his piece in Saturday's paper to accuse me of "exploiting the death of [Santorum's] premature son, Gabriel, to score a political point" and of being "weird and sinister". The words pot, kettle and black come to mind. He deliberately mispresented my blogpost to score his own crude, political point against "Lefties". Oh, and it's a bit rich for Thompson, of all people, to accuse others of publishing "weird and sinister" blogposts.

How about this, from Thompson, entitled, "The Calais 'jungle' and the Islamic settlement of Britain":

How interesting that French police waited until the end of Ramadan before forcibly dismantling the Calais "jungle". That tells us something we really need to remember about a huge proportion of the illegal immigrants seeking to enter Britain: that they are pious Muslims.

Pious Muslims! Outrageous! How about this blogpost from Thompson, entitled:

Indulgence of Islam is harming society

(Btw, can you imagine a headline which read "Indulgence of Judaism is harming society" or "Indulgence of black people is harming society"?)

And in a blogpost on the supposed popularity of the BNP's odious views, Thompson wrote:

The Tories have not made immigration and Islam central to their policies. It's too early to do so, if they want to sanitise their image among middle-class voters. Also, they lack the insight or the courage to recognise that the two issues will soon be indivisible. The tragedy for this country is that it is now, not in ten years' time when our social fabric has been torn to pieces, that voters need a political party to do so.

On second thoughts, "weird and sinister" doesn't do justice to Thompson's persistent Islam-baiting.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Ignore the people who say to never meet your heroes: I ended up booking a canal boat holiday with mine

Harold Pinter probably never thinks about the night we met – but I do, often.

Combining suburban dinner party, social awkwardness and simmering resentment, it was all rather more Ayckbourn than Pinter. I was at a small dinner given to celebrate one of the early birthdays of BBC4. It was held at a discreet private dining club in the West End and the social mix of diners was diverting: a couple of modish artists, the newscaster George Alagiah, Damon Albarn and Melvyn Bragg, if memory serves. It wasn’t quite as heady as the time after the British Comedy Awards when I danced on a podium with the Chuckle Brothers and Sophie Dahl. But it was certainly a happening crowd.

I’m afraid I paid scant attention to any small talk from George regarding Angela Merkel, or to the beef bavette in a rosemary jus, because a hero of mine was sitting some three places down, toying with a Hasselback potato. I’m not sure why Harold Pinter was there, but no matter. I spent the meal fantasising about Ben and Gus in The Dumb Waiter – holed up in an upstairs room, desperately julienning our carrots – and planning my conversational gambits for when, later, I ensnared the Nobel Laureate in witty, thought-provoking chit-chat.

I got the chance to do just that. I told him I had recently watched a repeat of the Sixties Granada TV version of his play The Lover. “All live, of course; we got one chance,” he said. I remarked on the excellent cast – which was rather tactless, as the female lead was his first wife, Vivien Merchant. He made the segue elegantly: “Have you met Antonia?” he said, indicating his now wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. I hadn’t, but no matter; we would get to know each other famously on the canal boat holiday I would be booking for us soon.

Then, in a bumptious manner that would have embarrassed the infamous “Person from Porlock” who interrupted Coleridge mid-”Kubla Khan”, a minor BBC exec with a nerdy, middle-aged obsession with pop ephemera came over, ignored Harold and Antonia, and tried to engage me in conversation about an old Bogshed John Peel session.

H&A waited patiently – keen, I felt, to resume our conversation, a little pained. I practically shouted: “EXCUSE ME, I AM TALKING TO A LITERARY GIANT!!!”

Soon after that, the couple made a silent, Pinteresque departure. How different, I later thought, from the first dinner party they’d attended together, when they were near strangers. Before leaving, Fraser said to Pinter that she liked The Birthday Party. He replied, “Must you go?” and though both were married to other people, with seven children between them, she didn’t.

Their relationship lasted 33 years. They probably never thought about that winter’s evening again, but I do, often. Ignore those churls who say never meet your heroes.

Next week: Lynne Truss

Stuart Maconie is a radio DJ, television presenter, writer and critic working in the field of pop music and culture. His best-selling books include Cider with Roadies and Adventures on the High Teas; he currently hosts the afternoon show on BBC 6Music with Mark Radcliffe.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war