The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Times has spoken on Landesman sex slaves article

Life gets tedious when the Lords of the Big Media fail to observe what tweely used to be called netiquette to the slightest degree.

I relayed the information yesterday that ombud Daniel Okrent was still on the case [1].

What Okrent (or, rather, the Times editors) failed to do was mention (still less, link to) a statement by the Times on the Landesman article at the bottom of the Corrections Page [2] of the self-same edition of the paper!

The statement runs as follows [3]:
Editors' Note

"The Girls Next Door," an article about the importing of women and girls to the United States for sexual slavery, has generated much discussion since it appeared in The Times Magazine on Jan. 25. In response to questions from readers and other publications about sources and accuracy, the magazine has carried out a thorough review of the article.

On the issue of sources, the writer, Peter Landesman, conducted more than 45 interviews, including many with high-ranking federal officials, law enforcement officers and representatives of human rights organizations. Four sources insisted on anonymity to protect their professional positions. A magazine fact checker also interviewed all relevant sources, many of them both before and after publication. Some readers have questioned the figure of 10,000 enforced prostitutes brought into this country each year. The source of that number is Kevin Bales, recommended to the magazine by Human Rights Watch as the best authority on the extent of enforced prostitution in the United States, who based his estimates on State Department documents, arrest and prosecution records and information from nearly 50 social service agencies.

In the course of this review, several errors were discovered in specific details. One, an erroneous reference to the release date of "Scary Movie 2," was corrected in the magazine last Sunday.

On the question whether women imported through Cottonwood Canyon, Calif., could have been wearing high heels, the original source, when pressed, acknowledged that his information was hearsay. The article should not have specified what the women were wearing, and the anecdote should have been related in the past tense, since the trafficking ring was broken up in 2001.

The woman in her 20's known to her traffickers as Andrea recalled an incorrect name for the hotel to which she was taken in Juárez, Mexico. The Radisson Casa Grande had not yet opened when she escaped from her captors.

After the article was published, the writer made an impromptu comment in a radio interview, noting that Andrea has multiple-personality disorder. The magazine editors did not learn of her illness before publication. Andrea's account of her years in slavery remained consistent over two and a half years of psychotherapy. Her therapist says that her illness has no effect on the accuracy of her memory. Her hours-long interview with the author, recorded on tape, is lucid and consistent.

An independent expert consulted by the magazine, Dr. Leonard Shengold, who has written books and papers about child abuse and the reliability and unreliability of memory, affirms that a diagnosis of multiple-personality disorder is not inconsistent with accurate memories of childhood abuse. Because multiple-personality disorder has been associated with false memory, however, the diagnosis should have been cited in the article.

The magazine's cover showed a 19-year-old nicknamed Montserrat, who escaped from a trafficker four years ago. An insignia on her school uniform had been retouched out of the picture to shield her whereabouts. The change violated The Times's policy against altering photographs.

I'm indebted for the tip to Daniel Radosh's blog, a piece which picks holes in the Corrections statement - and suggests, which must be right, that this is the Times' idea of pre-empting Okrent's view of the matter.

It seems to me that NYTC management decided some time ago to raise the stakes, to admit minor errors, but stand by the substance. Thereby ensuring that Okrent would look rather petty and irrelevant if he sought to put a shot across the bows by doing more nit-picking: and challenging him either to make a frontal assault on the quality of Landesman's journalism (and NYT Magazine Editor Gerry Marzorati's editing) by inference from the mass of questionable elements in the story; or to roll over and concur with the management on the story.

It looks like Okrent's big test. If he passes on the Landesman piece, in the hope of finding a more clear-cut example of journalistic or editorial deficiency later on, he risks compromising his authority. Especially if, without his help, the piece continues slowly to unravel as it has apparently been doing.

(What is the view in the newsroom of Landesman and Marzorati, generally, and in relation to the sex slaves piece? Will they mount the barricades in their defence, if Okrent goes for broke?)

It will also be crucial that, rather than giving some blanket opinion, he addresses individually the detailed questions that have been raised - it is, after all, those questions of detail that raised doubts about the piece in the first place. Especially now he has his kinda-sorta blog - which announces that it is for any
issue that deserves to be addressed in public but isn't appropriate for, or won't fit into, his biweekly column in the Week in Review.

Space, clearly, is no object.

  1. The link to the Okrent piece is perishable, per NYT usual. Kevin Drum has kindly pointed to a gizmo that produces durable links for Times pieces published on or after May 6 2003. The link to the Okrent piece is this.

  2. The durable link gizmo does not work for this page. Drum says it doesn't work every time. Beggars can't be choosers, though.

  3. Up till now, I've kept away from the jury questions. It's here for ease of future reference. Just in case.

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