Media Watch: New York Times Magazine

Tyler LePard

In an opinion piece published last Sunday, Byron Calame (the New York Times' reader representative) wrote about a key component in a New York Times Magazine article on abortion in El Salvador: "Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect." The original article, written by Jack Hitt, had several interviews with women who had abortions in El Salvador - where the medical procedure is illegal and anyone who participates in one can get sentenced with up to 30 years jail time.

The controversy is over one of the women, Carmen Climaco, who is currently serving time in prison; the debate is whether she was punished for ending her pregnancy (as Hitt reported) or for killing her full-term baby after it was born (as court documents suggest). Calame contends that Hitt and his editors did not fact check thoroughly, and then denied their mistake when questioned about Climaco.

In an opinion piece published last Sunday, Byron Calame (the New York Times' reader representative) wrote about a key component in a New York Times Magazine article on abortion in El Salvador: "Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect." The original article, written by Jack Hitt, had several interviews with women who had abortions in El Salvador – where the medical procedure is illegal and anyone who participates in one can get sentenced with up to 30 years jail time.

The controversy is over one of the women, Carmen Climaco, who is currently serving time in prison; the debate is whether she was punished for ending her pregnancy (as Hitt reported) or for killing her full-term baby after it was born (as court documents suggest). Calame contends that Hitt and his editors did not fact check thoroughly, and then denied their mistake when questioned about Climaco.

Calame cited the anti-abortion web site, LifeSiteNews, as the source that brought this issue to readers' attention and caused an outcry to the New York Times. It's really too bad that Calame gives that site credibility, as most of what they publish is filled with misinformation (I'll let you guess where their articles fall in our fact vs. fiction section). Here are some of their recent headlines:

  • Priest Says Beware of Science Experts Quoting Statistics and Saying Sky is Falling
  • Plan B Manufacturer for New Zealand Admits it Causes Abortion
  • African Nation of Togo Succumbs to UN Pressure and Expands Abortion Access
  • Christian Groups Protest Wal-Mart Support for Homosexuality, Abortifacient Birth Control
  • College Women at Risk for Psychiatric Illness at Politically Correct Campuses

Ann on Feministing makes a great point about the New York Times Magazine sending Jack Hitt, "an old white dude and entrenched member of the elite lefty media" who doesn't speak Spanish, to cover the delicate and complex story in El Salvador. Why didn't they send a Spanish-speaking, woman reporter?

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Calame stressed that sensitive issues such as abortion require exceptional care to ensure that reporters get the facts right. Additionally, the error should have been acknowledged earlier and corrected. What is really disappointing in this situation is that anti-abortion advocates will take this one mistake in reporting and editing to invalidate the rest of Hitt's article, which is a compelling historical analysis with legitimate personal stories from several women who have suffered in El Salvador.

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