Media Watch: New York Times Magazine

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?

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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  • ema

    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…


    How do we know that there’s an error/mistake in the reporting? I read the court decision (in Spanish), and from what I’ve been able to figure out, the EGA is a legal decisions (basically, the judge says so), not a medical one (no autopsy report, fetal wt, measurements, path report, etc.). Do you have any additional info? Thanks.

  • tyler-lepard

    Hi ema, thank you for your comment.


    I appreciate the information you shared about the court decision, and acknowledge that this is a very complex situation. In my post, I was trying to walk a fine line down the middle of what is known… and based on Calame's article, which clarified that Hitt did not check the court ruling, I used their term: "error."


    I apologize for the oversimplification and would gladly welcome additional information and feedback. Additionally, I'll check with our experts to see if they can make better sense of this and report back.





  • mernlar

    If nothing else, failure to read the transcript of the court proceedings represented an error in performing the level of research that such an important and complex story deserved.
    That said, the story remains as an important comment on the complexities of the reproductive health system of El Salvador–even more so as highlighted by the emergence of this issue. In El Salvador, a woman cannot terminate an unwanted pregnancy without risking her own health and well being, not to mention freedom. In the face of such a situation, is the punishment that a woman faces for terminating a pregnancy different than that faced for killing a newborn baby? What are the implications for women if the penalty is the same or similar?
    The perverse incentive that such a system creates–that would exist anywhere that such anti-feminist, anti-health, anti-choice policies are allowed to prevail–requires serious examination. An article that addressed that question head on would be a valuable contribution. It’s unfortunate that such an opportunity was missed.