Thursday, January 25, 2007


On Tuesday night, President Jimmy Carter came to Boston and spoke at Brandeis University. His speech followed weeks of national controversy over his book, which has been described as an indictment of Israel, and disagreement among the Brandeis community about whether Carter's invitation should be conditional upon his agreeing to debate Alan Dershowitz.

Dozens of experts and academics, both Jewish and otherwise, have noted factual errors and distortions in Carter's book. Carter has declined to respond directly to most of these criticisms — ironically, while claiming that his critics ignored his points. He has dismissed them as "ad hominem statements," and yet he said about Dershowitz, "He's so obviously's not worth my time to waste it on commenting on him." He refused several offers to debate Dershowitz at Brandeis.

Carter has repeatedly insisted that the reason he wrote his book was "to precipitate discussion." One Brandeis student defended Carter's evasiveness by saying that there are different ways to contribute, and that Carter's book can build discussion by presenting an opinion and leaving the debate to others. Indeed, that seems to be Carter's intention.

He has been called a coward, and I'm reluctant to use that word about any United States president. I have some appreciation for what Carter accomplished, rising to that job and performing in its capacity, and I think it merits respect; but the station carries more responsibility than privilege. It's fine for a PhD to write a book and leave the debate to others, but Carter's reticence is unbefitting a president. The objections to his book aren't cosmetic, and they're not coming from a fringe sect: Fourteen members of his own Carter Center resigned in protest.

The theme of Carter's 1976 presidential campaign was, "Why not the best?" He said that his defining moment came as a student at the Naval Academy, when he was forced to admit that he hadn't always performed his best, and he resigned to never repeat that mistake. Carter is right that Israel-Palestine relations is an important and misunderstood subject — but is this the best way to elevate the discussion, by cobbling together a tenuous thesis and then refusing to engage its critics?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Exit Poll

I've kept my attention elsewhere, mostly because I'm ambivalent about what to do with this space; but I should probably take this opportunity to brag that as of today, I'm standing 5 for 5 in terms of law school acceptances, including one offer of half tuition and two full scholarships.

I worked damn hard polishing every square inch of those application packets, and I'm gratified to get these results. It's a welcome surprise to be offered $225,000 before I've even applied for financial aid. I'm not finished yet and I'm loathe to disregard Aesop — but with 56% of precincts reporting, it's looking good.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Last April, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled "Pro-Life Nation" decrying the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador. To drive home his point, writer Jack Hitt reported the story of 26-year-old Carmen Climaco, who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison "for an abortion that was ruled a homicide."

Hitt reported as fact that Climaco had aborted her pregnancy at 18 weeks. The trial record, however, told a different story — "that Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the 'recently born' [baby]."
The physician who had performed the autopsy on the “recently born” testified that it represented a “full-term” birth, which he defined as a pregnancy with a duration of “between 38 and 42 weeks,” the ruling noted. In adopting those conclusions, the court said of another autopsy finding: “Given that the lungs floated when submerged in water, also indicating that the recently-born was breathing at birth, this confirms that we are dealing with an independent life.”
That's a hell of a distinction: aborting an 18-week fetus, versus strangling a newborn baby. Hitt claimed that he got his facts second-hand from a magistrate who "had been helpful in other areas of the story and quite open." Hitt never bothered to check the trial record. But according to the New York Times public editor, "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 public editor concluded:
The care taken in the reporting and editing of this example didn’t meet the magazine’s normal standards. 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...

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.
Despite these revelations, the New York Times Magazine editorial staff does not intend to public a retraction or correction. In fact, the Magazine's editor, Gerald Marzorati, dismissed the trial record despite the absence of any contradictory evidence. Marzorati simply said, "El Salvador's judicial system is terribly politicized."

This is what people are talking about when they reference the "liberal media bias," and this is why people disparage the New York Times as a partisan rag: Because its writers cherry-pick anecdotes to support their pet causes — and when one of those anecdotes proves to be a fabrication, the newspaper abandons journalistic ethics and refuses to acknowledge the truth.