The Corner

RE: Debbie Nathan

Ramesh already made some great points yesterday about about that Debbie Nathan piece at TNR’s website, making the ludicrous assertion that contra to the NYT’s editorial positions, the Times’s abortion coverage is overwhelmingly pro-life. But when I read it, it so bowled me over with its logical inconsistencies and dishonesty that I thought I’d dive in and note a few more things.

To my mind, Nathan’s most egregious point was this:

Then there was the disturbing flap at the Magazine two years ago, after a cover piece about illegal abortion in Latin America reported on a woman in El Salvador who supposedly was criminally convicted for aborting her 18-week fetus. Post publication, it turned out the woman was actually judged guilty of murdering her newborn, full-term baby. The reporter had never bothered to read the court records, and the Magazine’s factcheckers hadn’t either. In its eagerness to champion abortion rights in a country that has none, the paper had gotten sloppy. And on its own national turf, where long-established rights are being chipped at, sloppiness runs in the other direction.

If Nathan’s central contention was that “not a season goes by that a news item or magazine feature [at the NYT] doesn’t imply that women who get abortions are acting with egotism, unhealthiness, and cruelty,” she has tremendous gall glossing over the details surrounding the article above. The NYT Magazine article in question was “Pro-Life Nation” by Jack Hitt published on April 9, 2006. I wrote about the incident at NRO previously:

After Hitt’s article, pro-life groups howled in protest. Climaco had not, in fact, been sentenced to 30 years for an abortion; she’d been convicted of strangling an infant that had already been born. It turned out that Hitt had received much of his information about Climaco’s case from a translator with close ties to an abortion-advocacy group — one which immediately used the Times Magazine piece in an online fundraising appeal. The claim that she’d had an abortion at 18 weeks came from an estimate submitted by a doctor at Climaco’s trial who hadn’t seen the infant. That report was found by the judges in the case to be flawed, and was totally at odds with the report of the doctor who performed the infant’s autopsy.

Remarkably, the Times Magazine didn’t issue a correction to the Hitt piece. Only after being queried by the Office of the Publisher at the Times about a possible error, did the Magazine respond. “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,” said a note by the paper’s standards editor Craig Whitney and approved by Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati.

On December 31, 2006, the New York Times public editor Bryon Calame finally devoted an entire column to eviscerating Hitt’s story. With the help of a Times stringer in El Salvador, Calame was able to locate a copy of the relevant court documents which clearly contradict Hitt’s story. In the column, Calame stopped just shy of directly challenging the Times standards editor, who still said he was “not ready … to order up a correction or Editors’ Note at this point,” even after an English translation of the damning court documents had been made available. “Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect,” Calame concluded.

Finally, a week after Calame’s column, and almost exactly eight months after the story ran, an “Editor’s Note” was appended to the original story on the Times website.

This incident was not exactly the exception-that-proves-the rule as Nathan would have you believe. Rather, it seems obvious that a number of people involved in the article above were also damningly involved in abortion advocacy either by comission or omission. But Nathan doesn’t detail the facts because it pretty dramatically makes a hash of her thesis. Her whole article struck me as similarly sloppy.

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