NYT Ombudsman: Times fumbled El Salvador abortion/murder story

posted at 9:03 pm on December 30, 2006 by see-dubya

About a month ago I noted an allegation that the New York Times Magazine had published an article that described a woman who was serving 30 years in a prison in El Salvador for getting an abortion. While abortion is illegal in El Salvador, the woman had actually been convicted of murder for strangling her newborn.

NYT Public Editor Byron Calame checked into it and found that, basically, the Times got it wrong–or, as he put it:

Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.

I will let you read through the details for yourself. Three things I take away from it:

I. Calame’s account of how this error came about is useful, because it shows how very small errors can be introduced that accumulate and allow the Times to get a story wrong. The main problem here is that the article’s writer, Jack Hitt, heard that a particular report was “archived” and assumed he couldn’t get it. In fact Life Site News (which first noticed the error), Calame, and ultimately the Times editors managed to come up with it pretty easily and found it showed that the Climaco was rightly convicted of murder, not illegal abortion.

Hitt’s explanation is plausible, but the Times could easily have checked this out before the article ran (or at least before they began answering complaints.) Another explanation, of course, is that Hitt found some evidence that suggested a shocking penalty was being wrongly imposed on a poor girl, and figured the Times would rush to print it and accept his word that the document was unavailable. (I’ve no evidence of this–just noting the possibility.) But either way, the blogosphere fact-checked him.

II. Another problem with this story is the NYT’s freelancer talking with the murderer, Carmen Climaco, through an unpaid translator who consulted for a pro-choice group in El Salvador, which then used the Times article for its fundraising. While this wasn’t the main error in the story, it’s an interesting admission that sometimes helpful local sources have their own agenda. Something we “warbloggers” have been beating to death lately in a slightly different context.

III. But perhaps the biggest problem–one which Calame notes in full–is the arrogant refusal of Times brass to admit there might have been a problem with their reporting. They sent out a form response to people who wrote in about the article dismissing their concerns before they had finished their translation of the critical document.

But now they persist in the same belief even when confronted by Calame with the court record that showed they were wrong and the baby’s lungs were full of air.

Not wanting to admit you’re wrong is human nature, not liberal bias. But even at this late date and in spite of the evidence, the NYT editors seem resolved that dammit, that girl is in jail for an abortion, not for murder. And according to Calame they’re still not ready to correct the story.

At this point I would think all bloggers–large or small, pro-life or pro-choice–who are interested in accurate reporting ought to put some pressure on the NYT to explain this development.

P.S. I’ve been underwhelmed with Calame’s chaperoning of the Times, although his is admittedly a difficult job, especially since he doesn’t have any power except a column about what goes on inside. But he earned his money on this one.

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It is not surprising. The times thinks that their words are fact. I do not know much about time’s ombudsman, but when the evidence is clear, it is… What can we say? This does not help me confirm my suspicion about the Times. My suspicion is already well grounded.

Ouabam on December 30, 2006 at 9:48 PM

What’s really funny about this admission of shoddy reporting is that it misses the bigger point: The NYT exhibits gross bias in the stories is chooses to tell and the ones it chooses to ignore. What appeal does this story, as originally misreported, have to NYT readers? Were some of them duped into moving to El Salvador hoping for a cut-rate abortion? Hitt wanted to deride a legal system that protects unborn children (like some of the pro-life proposals in various states during the last election).

Hitt and NYT editors demonstrated their bias merely by the ridiculous analogy they were trying to draw (i.e., South Dakota will be just like the third world if they dare restrict abortion). Their choice of using an abortion advocacy group as their unchecked source was bad judgement, but it also demonstrated bias.

cmay on December 30, 2006 at 10:09 PM

Then NYT has long since dropped the pretense of publishing “all the news that’s fit to print.” Over the year, they have gone from cherry-picking stories that supported their agenda, to biasing the coverage of these stories, to simple propaganda despite the truthfulness (or not) of their story.

And their agenda? As I’ve said before, they want to raise their status from simple event reporters to the vaulted position of official state propagandists for a socialist state. Why just report when you can have a position of serious power?

I don’t think they even care what brand of socialism may result from their efforts: Marxism, Lennonist, Nazi, Sino-communist…just as long as the “new” government can support their key points: suppression of dissenting views; redistribution of wealth and elmination of capitalism; open borders; devaluation of innocent/defenseless human life; heroic worship of hedonists and criminals; and abolition of religion.

This is just more evidence.

stonemeister on December 30, 2006 at 10:13 PM

The MSM can always be counted to run with a story, or piece thereof, that fits their prebuilt narrative, and bury one that doesn’t.

No doubt, some in the dextrosphere have this same shortcoming, but there are many prominent sites that do not. For instance, last night and today I can see both LGF and HA touting Barbara Boxer doing The Right Thing.

By contrast, the typical reaction from the levosphere to Chimpler McCheneyBurton doing what they would normally like (and we’d dislike) is to come up with some tortured logic to show why his implementation is still evil, because they are not capable of doing otherwise. They need their Emmanuel Goldstein, else what would they do for that two minutes each day?

The Monster on December 30, 2006 at 10:18 PM

There was a relatively non-partisan era in American journalism which began in the 1930s, when big-city newspapers took on both Republican and Demo political machines in the name of “reform”, but era ended when the major newspapers and TV news adopted the New Left agenda–especially the anti-war aspect–during the mid to late 60s.

For a full four decades now, the print and TV “media” have been nothing more than House Organs of the Left and the Demos, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or engaging in self-delusion

We are here in the blog-o-sphere because the MSM are, as the above case proves once again, are useless lying tools

Janos Hunyadi on December 30, 2006 at 10:41 PM

Ehhh, when disseminating propaganda you have to break a few eggs.

x95b10 on December 30, 2006 at 11:39 PM

I think it is just the leftist view of what is abortion. She didn’t want it, so therefore it was an abortion, not murder, by choice.

lsutiger on December 31, 2006 at 12:17 AM

I think it is just the leftist view of what is abortion. She didn’t want it, so therefore it was an abortion, not murder, by choice.

Yep lsutiger, that’s it. She would have had an abortion if it had been legal and available. It wasn’t, so she committed retroactive abortion. To break it down:
. the fact that she had to give birth at all is an outrage in and of itself;
. there was no way she was going to keep the fetus, having “chosen” to “abort” it;
. therefore, the state forced her to kill the fetus after it was born.
. And now, having deprived her of her rights, they have the gall to convict her of murder and deprive her of even more? It’s George Orwell, I tell you!

So yes, the story is “fake but accurate”, or more correctly, “inaccurate but real”.

The problem here is that from reading the story, we don’t necessarily know if abortion is unavailable (legal is another matter). If she had wanted to abort the fetus, was it truly impossible to manage? What if she murdered her baby fair & square then engaged the abortion rights group post facto (or they her) based on the mere claim of having wanted an abortion? (On the idea that such an argument would actually get her, of all things, sympathy by the likes of the New York Times?)

RD on December 31, 2006 at 2:00 AM

But Hitt and the NYT don’t seem to express any concern on that question whatsoever; I suppose that concern – more than trivial given what’s been revealed about their source – is just a mere “detail”.

RD on December 31, 2006 at 2:05 AM

The guy’s name is Jack Hitt, huh? I wonder if his middle initial is S.

Jim Treacher on December 31, 2006 at 7:20 AM

There was a relatively non-partisan era in American journalism . . . .

Partisanship and bias aside, why have other news sources not picked up this gross journalistic lapse? When Dan Rather made an absolute ass of himself, the rest of the MSM defended him. They gave him a lifetime achievement award, for goodness sake. Reuters w/fauxtography, AP w/Capt Jamil: These aren’t just lapses is journalism, they are gross ethical flaws. But what makes it worse is that there is no competitive urge in the MSM to expose their competitors’ shady dealings. Is this professional courtesy or groupthink? Or do they feel that they are all guilty of the same shoddy practices?

cmay on December 31, 2006 at 10:30 AM

oh just shut up and swallow what they give you. They’re not reaching for the truth but … a “higher truth”.


One Angry Christian on December 31, 2006 at 10:39 AM

As far as the NYT and the liberal left is concerned, this is just the next step after ‘partial-birth abortion’ — “Post-birth abortion.”

Nothing to see here, move along.

rmgraha on December 31, 2006 at 10:56 AM

SeeDub, thanks so much for calling attention to this–valuable both for the picture of things happening in El Salvador and for the continued hubris of the NYT:

“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.”

In other words, the medical evidence that the woman’s baby was born alive is suspect because it would derail a US journalist’s opinion otherwise. Disgusting.

Anwyn on December 31, 2006 at 11:55 AM

PS am I the only one surprised that the Times actually published Calame’s piece?

Anwyn on December 31, 2006 at 12:01 PM

Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.

No, this is exactly the type of biased garbage we expect from the NYT. NYT Motto: “We’ll tell you what is accurate and fair; you are too stupid.”

rmgraha on December 31, 2006 at 12:21 PM

OK, so now a child who’s already been born is now “legal” (according to the all-knowing sages of the treason times at least) to commit abortion upon. Great. So the libtards who so decry the right of the roman paterfamilias to kill his wife or children at whim are now championing the right of the mother to murder her children at whim, before OR after they are born. This while using “for the children!” as a rallying cry for just about every other snot-brained lunatic idea they champion.

Is anybody else nauseated by the rank hypocrasy involved in such libtardism?


RobertHuntingdon on January 2, 2007 at 1:22 PM

“…Despite all evidence to the contrary, the New York Times continued to Rather the Climaco story…”

Uh…nah! It just doesn’t have the same *snap* for verb-ization like, say, “Bork” does.

eeyore on January 7, 2007 at 10:59 PM