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"What Critics Call" Flagrant Pro-Abortion Bias - March 13, 2003

Times Watch for 03/13/03

"What Critics Call" Flagrant Pro-Abortion Bias Carl Hulse's story on Senate debate of a bill to ban partial-birth abortion (or as he put it, "what critics call partial-birth abortion") included sentences seemingly structured to make supporters of the measure look aggressive and the opposition look put-upon. Here's one: "As Republicans who oppose abortion demonstrated their new power in the Senate, Democrats bristled at the tone of the proceedings, accusing Republicans of using inflammatory language and charts." But Hulse's piece wasn't as objectionable as the eye-catching subhead that accompanied it, featuring a line not in the article itself: "At issue is a ban on a procedure that is highly disputed but rarely performed." Hulse claimed only that "opponents of the measure say the procedure is rare." But a casual Tmes reader would glance at the subhead in bold and come away with the false impression that all sides agree partial-birth abortion is rare. Then again, perhaps that's just the impression the Times wanted to convey.

Times Reporter Reprieves Self from Fact-Checking Peter Kilborn's piece on the last-minute stay of execution for convicted murderer Delma Banks' summarized the prosecution's evidence against him but also dropped an apparent bombshell: A key witness had "recanted much of his testimony." Exactly what did this witness recant? The Times didn't say, but as the Washington Post revealed, it had nothing to do with the murder evidence. Unlike his previous report on the impending execution of Delma Banks, reporter Peter Kilborn's follow-up piece on Banks' last-minute stay of execution granted by the Supreme Court summarized the prosecution's evidence. Included in the evidence against Banks, a black man on death row in Texas for the 1980 murder of a white teenager, was the fact that he led police to the murder weapon, at the home of friend Charles Cook. Kilborn then dropped this apparent bombshell into his story: "Years later, Mr. Cook recanted much of his testimony." However, Kilborn failed to explain what testimony Cook had recanted. As the Washington Post's Lee Hockstader noted, the testimony Cook recanted had nothing to do with the actual evidence against Banks. (Cook admitted to falsely claiming at trial that his testimony had not been coached by prosecutors.) However, as Hockstader wrote: "Cook did not recant his original testimony that Banks had appeared at his house with the car and the pistol."