In April, a New York Times Magazine cover story focused on the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador. The article by writer Jack Hitt, titled "Pro-Life Nation", focused on the situation in El Salvador where there are no exceptions where abortion is legal and where women may be prosecuted for having abortions. The article asserted that women had been sentenced to long prision terms for having an abortion. "Pro-Life Nation" received a great deal of publicity when it was published. I wrote about the Times piece on this blog on April 9.
The Public Editor for the New York Times, responding to criticisms of the article, has disclosed today that Hitt may have gotten wrong some basic facts in the story:
It would be tempting to argure that the rest of the article is thrown into question by the apparent failure of Hitt and his editors to check the facts of the Carmen Climaco case, and many people will. Such attempts would have to ignore the basic truth of the story, that El Salvador does outlaw abortion in all situations, and that it is possible for a woman in El Salvador to be prosecuted for having an abortion. Where the Times owes not only its readers, but also El Salvador, an apology is by the sensationalistic tone created by not getting the facts right and by suggesting that prison terms of 30 years are handed out to women who have abortions.
The cover story on abortion in El Salvador in The New York Times Magazine on April 9 contained prominent references to an attention-grabbing fact. “A few” women, the first paragraph indicated, were serving 30-year jail terms for having had abortions. That reference included a young woman named Carmen Climaco. The article concluded with a dramatic account of how Ms. Climaco received the sentence after her pregnancy had been aborted after 18 weeks.
It turns out, however, that trial testimony convinced a court in 2002 that Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the “recently born.” A three-judge panel found her guilty of “aggravated homicide,” a fact the article noted. But without bothering to check the court document containing the panel’s findings and ruling, the article’s author, Jack Hitt, a freelancer, suggested that the “truth” was different.....One thing is clear to me, at this point, about the key example of Carmen Climaco. Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.
Thanks to readers Wally and El Visitador for pointing out the Times disclosure today.