New York Times on the death of an unborn child

You might recall that the New York Times told readers Kermit Gosnell was on trial for killing fetuses rather than newborns. There was a similar problem at USA Today. We noted when a reporter for a different outlet apologized for calling a newborn child a fetus.

So the problems with journalists using “fetus” to describe children even after they born make the old debates on whether it’s appropriate to use the term in stories about children prior to their birth seem quaint. But yesterday the New York Times came in for some criticism over stilted “fetal” language to describe a tragic death of a woman and her unborn child. From “Falling Tree Shatters Lives and Dreams of a Family“:

The Dikov family keeps an album of photos that document the love story of their son, Aleksander, and his wife, Yingyi Li-Dikov. On each page, they beam, always hugging. In one, Ms. Li-Dikov kneels over a heart drawn in the sand, the initials A and Y at its center.

And on another page is a black-and-white photo: the hazy sonogram of the daughter they were expecting in the fall.

There will be no pictures of mother and child. Ms. Li-Dikov, 30, was killed on Sunday when a giant tree toppled in Kissena Park in Queens, shattering the bench she was resting on and killing her. The 6-month-old fetus did not survive.

Emphasis mine. The caption to the accompanying photo reads:

Yingyi Li-Dikov, 30, and the fetus she was carrying died.

Fetus is a Latin term meaning “young one” but most people refer to their unborn children as unborn children or babies. Tmatt had a great post recently about the tension between the language that abortion rights activists and media types use and the language that people in the real world use when talking about pregnancy:

You see, back in the days just before and just after Roe vs. Wade, journalists found themselves caught between two forms of language. On one side, on the moral left, there were people who wanted to use the term “fetus” whenever possible, in order to avoid talking about the selective termination of “babies,” “unborn children,” etc. Since surveys show that most journalists, especially in elite newsrooms, are pro-abortion rights, this can affect coverage.

Meanwhile, real people in the real world tend — when dealing with pregnancies — to use baby language. I mean, surely it is rare for someone to come home from the doctor waving an early ultrasound image and say, “Hey! Look at the first picture of our fetus (or perhaps grandfetus)!”

The New York Times‘ use of fetal language for this young victim struck observers as odd. As RealClearPolitics editor Carl Cannon wrote on Twitter:

Can’t a newspaper be pro-choice without resorting to this? “The 6-month-old fetus did not survive.” http://nyti.ms/187Qeif

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NYTimes finally makes some changes on the fetus front

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Oh to have been a fly on the fall during any editing discussions at The New York Times national desk during the time between the newspaper of record’s early report on the verdict in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell case and the final version that is currently online.

Yes, there were a few changes.

Now I — naive old me — failed to save a copy of the early story. Frankly, I thought the Times team would leave that online as the early, deadline version and then publish a separate second-day story. Yes, I am naive every now and then.

However, the Newsbusters crew wrote a commentary that included some of the language that I also saw early on. It interesting that when you click on the URL in this commentary that is supposed to lead to the early Times report, you now head over to the radically changed final version. Slick.

The key statement in the early text is that the “verdict came after a five-week trial in which the prosecution and the defense battled over whether the fetuses Dr. Gosnell was charged with killing were alive when they were removed from their mothers.”

Now, that is an accurate statement, from one perspective. The whole point of the trial was whether Gosnell’s coworkers were speaking the truth when they reported that he regularly delivered late-term fetuses alive before killing them. Then again, as your GetReligionistas have been noting, there is no such thing as a fetus that has been delivered. Once it’s delivered, it’s an infant or a baby. Look it up.

fe·tus … pl. fe·tus·es
… 2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.

What part of “to the moment of birth” is so hard to grasp? One really doesn’t need get into arguments about abortion, morality, religion, science and law to read the a few words in a dictionary.

However, it is also important to note that the Times team was challenged with reporting, accurately, the claims of voices on both sides. Gosnell’s defenders were clearly using “fetus” language and it was important to quote that language as part of his case. Thus, the early Times report also stated that “Dr. Gosnell was acquitted of one first-degree murder charge involving an aborted fetus.”

Right. The jury apparently did not believe that the evidence of a live birth was as strong in one of the “snipping” cases. But what about the victims in the three guilty verdicts?

Over at The Washington Post, the early report went with the simple language of the trial itself — a good choice. The attributions are clear and strong.

PHILADELPHIA – After a two-month trial and 10 days of deliberation, a jury on Monday decided that Baby A, Baby C and Baby D lived a few fleeting moments outside their mothers’ wombs before their spinal cords were severed at Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic in West Philadelphia.

The way those brief lives ended didn’t amount to abortion but to three acts of first-degree murder, jurors concluded.

So what happened in the revised Times report? Let’s walk through that one, starting with the blunt lede:

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Death penalty in Cleveland horrors? Wait, who died?

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Once again, let’s turn to the dictionary and that tricky word “fetus,” which has through the decades been at the heart of so many bitter newsroom arguments about abortion, morality, religion, science and law.

fe·tus … pl. fe·tus·es

… 2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.

Obviously, your GetReligionistas have been discussing this term lately because of the ongoing, and ongoing, trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the fact that some elite media have been saying things like the following (care of the industry scriptures, The New York Times):

PHILADELPHIA – Through four weeks, prosecutors have laid out evidence against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider on trial on charges of killing seven viable fetuses by “snipping” their necks with scissors and of causing the death of a pregnant 41-year-old woman during a procedure.

The problem, once again, is that at the heart of the Gosnell nightmare were the reports that he was DELIVERING late-term fetuses and THEN killing the infants — after delivery. In other words, these infants were no longer “fetuses,” according to the dictionary, when the abortionist snipped their spinal cords.

Now, we are seeing some interesting, and related, issues emerging in Cleveland, where prosecutors are preparing to throw the book at the alleged kidnapper and torturer Ariel Castro. Note the language in this New York Times report, which resembles that seen in many other mainstream media accounts. Here is the lede:

CLEVELAND – As more grim details emerged … about the long captivity of the three women rescued from imprisonment in a dilapidated home here, one official compared the victims to survivors of a P.O.W. camp, and prosecutors said they would seek murder charges against the man held in the abductions, accusing him of forcing at least one of the women to miscarry.

Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said the miscarriages, which at least one of the women described to the police, could be grounds for seeking the death penalty for the suspect, Ariel Castro. Mr. Castro, a former bus driver, enticed the women off the street with offers of a ride home, the authorities say.

And later on, there is this linked to the torture of Michelle Knight:

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Pennsylvania reporter shows how to correct error

Last week, a sad news story out of Pennsylvania made the rounds. Originally, it had a bad headline and lede:

Fetus found in high school bathroom; Lancaster County student jailed on $1M bail

A 19-year-old McCaskey East High School student was charged with concealing the death of a child after she reportedly gave birth to a fetus that was found dead in a school bathroom Tuesday night.

Cherlie LaFleur, of the 300 block of North Marshall Street, was identified by police and school resource Officer David Shell after they reviewed school surveillance footage and conducted extensive interviews at the school where the male infant was apparently born prematurely Tuesday night, according to a Lancaster city police press release.

After giving birth in the bathroom, LaFleur allegedly tried to flush the infant down a toilet and, when that failed, she put it in a trash can, police said.

Such sad news about newborns these days. You’re all wise readers so you immediately see the problem. You don’t give birth to a fetus. “Fetus” is the euphemism we use for unborn children. By definition, that’s the wrong euphemism once the baby is born. I was one of the folks on social media decrying this incorrect use of the word. For example:

@mzhemingway: No one gives birth to a fetus. It’s an ontological impossibility. By definition, euphemism only applies pre-birth!

Before we look at how the PennLive.com reporter handled the negative reaction to his mistake, let’s revisit how a more august paper handled it’s egregious errors on this point. You can read tmatt’s post “Journalism and the first few minutes after childbirth.” And if you look at the two articles he singled out for their factual error, neither USA Today nor the New York Times has gotten around to correcting their erroneous stories.

Compare that embarrassing response with how the PennLive.com reporter responded to being called out:

Good afternoon everyone,

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