by Noel Sheppard
January 2, 2007
LifeNews.com Note: Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and a featured writer at the American Thinker. He is also a contributing writer to the Free Market Project and a contributing editor for NewsBusters, a blog that focuses on media bias.
It goes without saying that one of the clarion calls for the liberal media is unlimited abortion on demand with absolutely no restrictions to a woman’s supposed “right to choose.” In a New Year’s eve article written by New York Times ombudsman Byron Calame, it is clear that the folks at the Old Gray Lady don’t understand that the killing of a baby really is murder (hat tip to Hot Air, emphasis mine throughout):
THE cover story on abortion in El Salvador in The New York Times Magazine on April 9 contained prominent references to an attention-grabbing fact. “A few” women, the first paragraph indicated, were serving 30-year jail terms for having had abortions. That reference included a young woman named Carmen Climaco. The article concluded with a dramatic account of how Ms. Climaco received the sentence after her pregnancy had been aborted after 18 weeks.
Was this the case? Not even close:
It turns out, however, that trial testimony convinced a court in 2002 that Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the “recently born.” A three-judge panel found her guilty of “aggravated homicide,” a fact the article noted. But without bothering to check the court document containing the panel’s findings and ruling, the article’s author, Jack Hitt, a freelancer, suggested that the “truth” was different.
How did the Times miss this crucial fact? Well, it appears that no one in the "newspaper of record" bothered to fully examine the court transcript of this trial to identify the real findings. Instead, using the Times’ often-used words, the article rushed to judgment, and reported that the pregnancy had been “aborted” months before doctors testified was the case:
The physician who had performed the autopsy on the “recently born” testified that it represented a “full-term” birth, which he defined as a pregnancy with a duration of “between 38 and 42 weeks,” the ruling noted. In adopting those conclusions, the court said of another autopsy finding: “Given that the lungs floated when submerged in water, also indicating that the recently-born was breathing at birth, this confirms that we are dealing with an independent life.”
Hmmm. So, court documents state that the baby was killed between 38 and 42 weeks after fertilization. Yet, the Times reported 18 weeks. Pretty ridiculous for a major newspaper, wouldn’t you say?
As a result, Calame chastised the Times for shoddy reporting and editing:
Exceptional care must be taken in the reporting process on sensitive articles such as this one to avoid the slightest perception of bias. Paul Tough, the editor on the article, acknowledged in an e-mail to me that in reporting this story, Mr. Hitt used an unpaid translator who has done consulting work for Ipas, an abortion rights advocacy group, for his interviews with Ms. Climaco and D.C. This wasn’t ideal, he said, but the risk posed for sources in this situation required the use of intermediaries “to some degree.”
The magazine’s failure to check the court ruling was then compounded for me by the handling of reader complaints about the issue. The initial complaints triggered a public defense of the article by two assistant managing editors before the court ruling had even been translated into English or Mr. Hitt had finished checking various sources in El Salvador. After being queried by the office of the publisher about a possible error, Craig Whitney, who is also the paper’s standards editor, drafted a response that was approved by Gerald Marzorati, who is also the editor of the magazine. It was forwarded on Dec. 1 to the office of the publisher, which began sending it to complaining readers.
The response said that while the “fair and dispassionate” story noted Ms. Climaco’s conviction of aggravated homicide, the article “concluded that it was more likely that she had had an illegal abortion.” The response ended by stating, “We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts as reported in our article, which was not part of any campaign to promote abortion.”
Regardless of facts presented to the Times well after the article had been published, its staff, much like CBS, Dan Rather, and Mary Mapes, still stood behind the story:
After the English translation of the court ruling became available on Dec. 8, I asked Mr. Marzorati if he continued to have “no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts” in the article. His e-mail response seemed to ignore the ready availability of the court document containing the findings from the trial before the three-judge panel and its sentencing decision. He referred to it as the “third ruling,” since the trial is the third step in the judicial process.
The article was “as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written,” Mr. Marzorati wrote to me. “I also think that if the author and we editors knew of the contents of that third ruling, we would have qualified what we said about Ms. Climaco. Which is NOT to say that I simply accept the third ruling as ‘true’; El Salvador’s judicial system is terribly politicized.”
I asked Mr. Whitney if he intended to suggest that the office of the publisher bring the court’s findings to the attention of those readers who received the “no reason to doubt” response, or that a correction be published. The latest word from the standards editor: “No, I’m not ready to do that, nor to order up a correction or Editors’ Note at this point.”
One thing is clear to me, at this point, about the key example of Carmen Climaco. Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.