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.
At the end of November, LifeSiteNews.com, a pro-life Web site, reported the truth: Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy ended in a live birth. The Web site asked readers to contact The Times. At that point, The Times began an elaborate cover-up. Two assistant managing editors stated, “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.”
On December 31, 2006, The New York Times public editor, Byron Calame, wrote an essay about the incident, “Truth, Justice, Abortion and The Times Magazine.” After detailing the facts and circumstances about the writing of the article, Calame concluded, “Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.” Further, Mr. Calame said, “The care taken in the reporting and editing of this example didn’t meet the magazine’s normal standards.”
In spite of Mr. Calame’s assessment, The Times has yet to print a retraction or to penalize any of the participants in the journalistic scandal. Mr. Calame’s article provides solid evidence for his conclusions about journalistic malfeasance.
Calame notes that the caption under Ms. Climaco’s picture in The Times article “stated flatly” that she “was given 30 years for an abortion that was ruled a homicide.” Calame noted that the court findings were unequivocal that the pregnancy ended in a “full-term birth” with the baby “breathing at birth, this confirms that we are dealing with an independent life.”
Mr. Calame admitted that Ipas planned to use The Times’ account of Ms. Climaco’s sentence to seek donations on its Web site for “identifying lawyers who could appeal her case” and to help the organization “continue critical advocacy work across Central America for women who are suffering under extreme abortion laws.”
Calame was also disappointed in The Times’ handling of reader complaints. Even after the facts were ascertained, the editors argued that the article was “as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written.” Further, the standards editor was unwilling to “order up a correction.”
These points are clear: Ms. Climaco gave birth to a live baby. She was found guilty of murdering her baby. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder, not abortion.
Further, the following facts are also clear. The Times claims that it is not part of any campaign to promote abortion, yet neglected to follow routine fact-checking procedures even though it was known that Hitt used translators associated with an abortion rights advocacy group.
While it is nice that The New York Times ombudsman, Mr. Calame, played the “good guy” and laid out the facts and the lies for all to see, no one at The New York Times has come clean as the “bad guy” and admitted the necessity for a correction or accountability for sloppy, unprofessional journalism at the “newspaper of record.”
Once again, if a story is “metaphorically true,” if it fits The Times’ leftist ideology, then there’s no need to verify it. So much for The Times being the “paper of record.” When a paper’s credibility is suspect, what is left? Little wonder that circulation, revenues, and the value of The New York Times (as based on the price of their stock) continues to decline.