A major journalistic scandal was finally acknowledged during the long news hole leading up to the New Year’s celebrations when the headlines were consumed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s execution and the funeral of former U.S. President Gerald Ford. It was revealed last week that in April 2006 The New York Times Magazine published a long cover story that hinged on a blatant lie.
The facts of the case came to light in November through the efforts of a pro-life Web site, LifeSiteNews.com. At first, The Times editors stonewalled over the facts, then they covered up the reporter’s biased sources and denied unethical journalistic practices. Finally, the newspaper’s ombudsman, Byron Calame, wrote a column on December 31, 2006 detailing the newspaper’s malpractice in the April 9 story. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the newspaper’s editors saw no reason to “doubt the accuracy” of the story, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So, no retraction, no recriminations and no firings.
This incident is reminiscent of the case in 1992 when Rigoberta Menchu was awarded the Nobel Prize for a fabricated autobiography of her life in the 1987 book I, Rigoberta Menchu. Hearing of the fraud, the New York Times sent one of its investigative reporters to Guatemala with the purpose of verifying Ms. Menchu’s claims in the supposed “autobiography” Ms. Menchu's defenders still claim that the dishonesty of her account is of no consequence, because her words are “metaphorically true;” she remains a hero to the left.
Likewise, fabrications in support of radical causes apparently are considered legitimate today by The New York Times –– the ends justify the means, as the facts of the Climaco case illustrate. In April 2006, The New York Times Magazine published a nearly 8,000 word cover story about the problems in El Salvador resulting from laws treating abortion as a crime. The story featured a young woman, Carmen Climaco, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for supposedly aborting an 18-week-old unborn baby. The truth is that Ms. Climaco gave birth to a full-term baby that she strangled to death. A panel of judges found her guilty of “aggravated homicide.”
Jack Hitt, author of the piece, is a freelance writer for numerous elite left-wing publications. He used a local translator associated with Ipas, an abortion advocacy group in El Salvador who later used the story to raise money. No one at The Times bothered to check his work. No one asked to see the court documents related to the case. In fact, normal procedures were neglected by The New York Times standards editor, Craig Whitney, The New York Times Magazine editor, Gerald Marzorati, and Sarah H. Smith, the magazine’s editorial manager.