The New York Times' own Rathergate

Byron Calame, public editor of the New York Times, has laid out a carefully worded exposé of the utter breakdown of editorial standards at the New York Times. The fact that paper prominently published a falsehood is only the beginning of the problem. When the falsehood was exposed, two senior editors of the paper issued a defense of the article without bothering to check the readily available court documents which critics had cited. Based on this negligent defense, the newspaper's publisher, Pinch Sulzberger, has rebutted critics who have written in.

Worst of all, even after the proof of the lie, the paper's editor and publisher refuse to publish a correction or even an editor's note. The paper is therefore content to let the lie stand, officially. If it were interested in honest reporting, it would be duty-bound to issue a retraction, one as prominent as the original lie.

This situation is functionally equivalent to the behavior of Dan Rather, who has never admitted that the Texas Air National Guard memorandum he broadcast about George W. Bush is a forgery. Of course, Dan Rather eventually lost his job. The miscreants at the New York Times, standards editor (!) Craig Whitney and New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati, continue in their jobs. And publisher Pinch Sulzberger blissfully continues to occupy the top job he inherited as scion of the family which controls the corporation, despite owning less than 10% of its shares, thanks to a dual class system of electing directors.

Here is what happened:

The New York Times Magazine published a 7,800 word cover story on April 9, 2006 about El Salvador's treatment of abortion as a crime. If ever a topic existed that would excite feminist pro-abortion rights advocates, this is it. The story was authored by "freelance" multiple-contributor Jack Hitt, who also writes for Harpers Magazine, and is a contributor to public radio program This American Life.

Hitt is a member in good standing of elite left wing journalistic circles. Consider this "teach in" on Gitmo, where he is identified institutionally with the New York Times.

As every editor and journalist knows, a good story needs vivid people to whom readers can relate to illustrate its points. The Hitt-man found just such a person: a young woman named Carmen Climaco, who was supposedly sentenced to a 30 year prison term for aborting an 18 week old fetus.

What could be more poignant to an abortion militant than a poor woman languishing in a Third World jail, for a crime that is labeled a constitutional right under Roe v. Wade? Reading about it, the average NOW member would instinctively reach for her checkbook, fearing that we are one Supreme Court justice away from a similar fate in America.

Left wing media gobbled up the story. For example:
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story will be a profile of a nation 8 years into the complete and total criminalization of abortion. No rape clause, no life of the mother clause. Nothing.

Air America's Rachel Maddow (if you don't listen to her you don't know what you're missing) interviews one of my favorite journalists Jack Hitt on his cover story (click orange buttons to listen or download).

What you find is a nation in a near-Handmaid's Tale dystopia where a mother of three is imprisoned for 30 years, where a woman must wait until her ectopic pregnancy bursts in her fallopian tubes to get surgery, where the mother of a pregnant woman can be prosecuted for giving aid and comfort to her daughter before, during or after an illegal abortion.

The title of this post? The folks who check vaginas for evidence of an abortion procedure. It's real.

Absolutely chilling. After you listen to the interview here, please go listen to Rachel Maddow every morning here. (Rachel Maddow)
The problem is that Ms. Climaco was in prison not for doing something that is legal in the United States. In fact, she murdered her baby after its birth following a full term pregnancy. When an autopsy was performed, the baby's lung floated, indicating that the baby had drawn breath. Under the same circumstances, the death would be labeled a homicide in the United States.

So how did the New York Times publish a high profile cover story based on a lie? Calame writes:
Mr. Hitt used an unpaid translator who has done consulting work for Ipas, an abortion rights advocacy group, for his interviews with Ms. Climaco and D.C. This wasn't ideal, he said, but the risk posed for sources in this situation required the use of intermediaries "to some degree."
Ipas has used the NYTM cover story to raise money, as Calame notes.The Hitt-piece never referenced any court documents. Calame continues:
Mr. Hitt said Ms. Climaco had been brought to his attention by the magistrate who decided four years ago that the case warranted a trial, so he had asked the magistrate for the court record. "When she told me that the case had been archived, I accepted that to mean that I would have to rely upon the judge who had been directly involved in the case and who heard the evidence" in the trial stage of the judicial process, Mr. Hitt wrote in an e-mail to me. So he didn't pursue the document.
This is egregiously lame as an excuse.  Calame notes that:
Although Sarah H. Smith, the magazine's editorial manager, told me that relevant court documents are "normally" reviewed, Mr. Hitt never checked the 7,600-word ruling in the Climaco case while preparing his story. And Mr. Hitt told me that no editor or fact checker ever asked him if he had checked the court document containing the panel's decision.
Apparently Ms. Smith and Magazine editor Marzorati regarded the story as "too good to check" in the old Fleet Street adage. Violating policy to publish something guaranteed to inflame abortion-rights enthusiasts doesn't seem to bother them.

Exactly how difficult would it have been to check? Again, Calame has done his homework:
...obtaining the public document isn't difficult. At my request, a stringer for The Times in El Salvador walked into the court building without making any prior arrangements a few days ago, and minutes later had an official copy of the court ruling.
The Times apparently became aware of the lie it had published at least a month ago:
...anti-abortion Web site,, reported on Nov. 27 that the court had found that Ms. Climaco's pregnancy ended with a full-term live birth. The headline: "New York Times Caught in Abortion-Promoting Whopper - Infanticide Portrayed as Abortion." Seizing on the misleading presentation of the article's only example of a 30-year jail sentence for an abortion, the site urged viewers to complain to the publisher and the president of The Times. A few came to me.
But when readers wrote in to complain, the paper's editorial quality-assurance mechanisms went into stonewall mode.
The initial complaints triggered a public defense of the article by two assistant managing editors before the court ruling had even been translated into English....

The response said that while the "fair and dispassionate" story noted Ms. Climaco's conviction of aggravated homicide, the article "concluded that it was more likely that she had had an illegal abortion." The response ended by stating, "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."
No reason to doubt? This is an astonishingly damning admission. A "standards" editor who does not bother checking original sources, and who tolerates the use of advocates as translators is not interested in objectivity. One who fails to bother with this essentials in the face of criticism is incompetent in the most charitable intrepretation. If Mr. Whitney does not lose his job over this admission, then the New York Times is publicly acknowledging that it is happy to be a conduit for lies which serve as propaganda.

Calame even confronts NYTM editor Marzorati with the translation of the court document proving the publication of a lie.  
His e-mail response seemed to ignore the ready availability of the court document containing the findings from the trial before the three-judge panel and its sentencing decision. He referred to it as the "third ruling," since the trial is the third step in the judicial process.

The article was "as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written," Mr. Marzorati wrote to me. "I also think that if the author and we editors knew of the contents of that third ruling, we would have qualified what we said about Ms. Climaco. Which is NOT to say that I simply accept the third ruling as ‘true'; El Salvador's judicial system is terribly politicized."

I asked Mr. Whitney if he intended to suggest that the office of the publisher bring the court's findings to the attention of those readers who received the "no reason to doubt" response, or that a correction be published. The latest word from the standards editor: "No, I'm not ready to do that, nor to order up a correction or Editors' Note at this point."
Unfortunately, this case lacks a household name figure like Dan Rather, and it is being exposed in the deadest of news holes, following Saddam's execution and the funeral of President Ford, and right before New Year's revelry. But it does stand as proof that top editorial and corporate management of the New York Times is indifferent to the publication of blatant lies, as long as the prejudices of its staff and readers are being reinforced.

Calame has distinguished himself here. He is highly diplomatic in his criticisms, but the facts he lays out speak for themselves. This is major journalistic scandal, not so much for the initial error (bad as it is, especially the reliance on advocates for basic translation services) but for the stonewalling which has followed revelations of the lie. It is one thing to be sloppy, even unethical in journalistic practice, using biased sources as translators. It is quite another to stonewall in the face of facts. The New York Times has hit bottom, and continues digging.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.  Ed Lasky contributed research help.