By: Joe Strupp
A child with bandaged legs who appeard in a front-page New York Times photo and reportedly had them broken by violence in Zimbabwe was actually suffering from club feet, according to an editor’s note published Wednesday that said his mother had lied to the paper.
The note also revealed that the Times discovered the child’s true affliction when he was taken by the paper to a local medical center for help.
“A front-page picture caption on June 26 describing an 11-month-old boy whose legs were in casts stated that his legs were broken and that his mother said the injuries were caused by an episode of state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe,” the note, on the correction’s page, read in part. “After the picture and an accompanying article that also described the injuries were published, The New York Times took the boy to a medical clinic in Harare for help. When the casts were removed, medical workers there discovered the boy had club feet. Doctors said on Monday that X-rays of the baby?s legs showed no evidence of bone fractures.”
The note went on to explain that the child’s mother eventually admitted her deception, stating “she had exaggerated injuries she said had been sustained by the boy during an attack by governing party militia. In multiple interviews, she said that youths backing President Robert Mugabe had thrown her son to the concrete floor ? and she still says that event did occur.
“The mother, however, later told The Times that the boy had been wearing casts even at the time of the attack, as part of a treatment he had received for his club feet at a different medical facility. She said she misrepresented the boy?s injuries to generate help because she could not afford corrective surgery for the boy.”
In a statement to E&P, Executive Editor Bill Keller defended the Times’ decision to help the child by taking him to a medical center: “Journalists in the field must not, of course, take sides in conflicts they cover. But neither do they suspend their humanity. It’s no violation of journalistic neutrality to share food with a hungry person or give an injured person a ride to a medical facility. In this case, the photographer performed an act of kindness.”
The note and the original article do not name the author of the story or the photographer who took the photo. The Times has withheld such byline and photo credit information in the past for Zimbabwe reporting out of concern for staffers’ security there.