The public editor of the New York Times has found that readers of its weekly Times Magazine were denied thorough and accurate reporting in a pro-abortion story published last spring. The story, written to criticize the many pro-life laws of Latin American countries, was apparently riddled with inaccuracies and untruths.
The cover story on abortion in El Salvador in The New York Times Magazine on April 9th claimed that “a few” women in the Central American country were serving 30-year jail terms for having had abortions.
The article focused especially on the case of a 26-year-old female inmate named Carmen Climaco.
Climaco was interviewed for the article and was held forth as an example of someone imprisoned for choosing to abort her “18-week old fetus.”
However, after LifeSite.net ran a story exposing the real facts about Climaco’s case, in a Nov. 27th article, complaints started arriving at the New York Times.
While the magazine’s publisher replied to complaints about Hitt’s article by saying there was “no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts as reported,” New York Times Public Editor, Bryon Calame, uncovered a different story.
In a Dec. 31st article Calame reported that the freelance reporter, Jack Hitt, failed to consult court documents, which clearly state that Climaco was found guilty of infanticide and not imprisoned for having an abortion. Based on forensic evidence that the baby was full-term and breathing independently at the time of death, the cause of death was determined to be strangulation.
Calame writes that the “care taken in the reporting and editing of this example didn’t meet the magazine’s normal standards” and that Hitt admitted, “no editor or fact checker ever asked him if he had checked the court document containing the panel’s decision.”
According to the Times, the public editor serves as the readers' representative. The public editor writes bi-weekly columns in which the opinions and conclusions are his own.
In addition to uncovering a lack of fact checking in the article, Calame also noted the ease with which facts could have been checked. At his request, a correspondent for the Times in El Salvador walked into a court building without making any prior arrangements and obtained an official copy of the Climaco infanticide court ruling a few minutes later.
Calame also underlined that, “exceptional care must be taken in the reporting process on sensitive articles such as this one to avoid the slightest perception of bias.” He reported that in writing his initial story Hitt also used an unpaid translator who has done consulting work for an abortion advocacy group, called IPAS.
IPAS, in turn, used the Hitt story on its website to seek donations to help appeal Climaco’s case and to assist the organization in its continued work to promote the legalization of abortion across Central America. IPAS has reportedly taken down its appeal. However, other abortion groups have picked up the Hitt story and are using it to rail against laws restricting abortions.
Some are now questioning the motives of the Times. According to Life Site News El Salvadoran writer, Julia Cardenal, who was interviewed for the initial New York Times piece, has recently criticized the Times for false reporting. Writing in an editorial in one of the largest papers in El Salvador, Cardenal asked rhetorically if the intention of the Times piece was, "to cause indignation in the United States so that they will pressure us to legalize abortion?"
Even after the court ruling became available in English on Dec. 8th, Times Magazine editor, Gerald Marzorati, continued to defend the article, saying it was “as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written,” Calame reported. Marzorati also refused to bring the court findings to the attention of complaining readers and to run a correction or editor’s note.
“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,” Calame concluded.