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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Time out?

Did they or didn't they?

That's becoming the overriding question of what may very well prove to be one of the bigger media embarrassments in a long time.

In one corner is the mayor of Gloucester, a Cape Ann city where the biggest news used to come with the annual blessing of the fleet near the famed fisherman's statue.

In the other, Time Magazine, with the story of a pregnancy pact among the community's bored teenage girls.

The only facts not in dispute are that 17 girls at Gloucester High School became pregnant, an unusually high total for any one school, let alone one in a proudly Catholic community.

Gloucester's Mayor, Carolyn Kirk, faced a battery of reporters and cameras usually reserved for a presidential candidate when she held a news conference to declare she saw no evidence of a pact. The reaction was swift and predictable for this tabloid age: all politicians lie and she doesn't know what she's talking about.

But did she?

Now it appears that Time may be backing off.
Without comment from any of the pregnant students themselves, it may be impossible to determine exactly what they agreed to, and when. So far, the only school official to use the word pact is Sullivan, who reportedly now says he does not recall who told him about the pact in the first place. But what does seem clear based on TIME's reporting is that some of the girls in question did at least discuss the idea of getting pregnant at the same time, and that too little was done to educate the girls on the potential ramifications of that choice.
Well yeah.

Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers tells the Herald's Jessica Heslam the new story is unmistakable in its intent.
“Time is clearly backing down because they’re saying it may be impossible to determine whether there was a pact or not. It’s quite clear that everything is hearsay. Nobody has talked to anybody who has said, ‘Yes, I did this.’ ”
Why did Time go with such a definitive story in the first place? The principal's memory appears "foggy" in Kirk's words and no credible source has emerged to confirm the story that Time noticeably labels as a "pact" in the most recent version.

Surely editors at Time, which has a long and storied (and sober) reputation put this story to the same test that they would any story that carries such explosive charges. Or, because the story involved a group of unnamed teenage girls in a small community, were the sourcing rules different?

Let's be clear. This doesn't doesn't even rely on anonymous sources in a position to know because none of those potential sources was ever interviewed.

Time may yet emerge from this without a dozen eggs on its face -- but that would require the cooperation of two or more teenage girls who would immediately become the center of a national media firestorm.

But as of now, you have forceful denials from a mayor who isn't backing down from the center of that firestorm. And you have what can only be called some weasel words and a definite walk back from what was once the nation's premier weekly news magazine.

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