Facts were scant in one abortion case. But that didn’t stop the attacks.

For nearly two weeks, the story of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was raped and crossed state lines for an abortion became a flashpoint in the national abortion debate. President Biden and other Democrats argued that it showed the damage resulting from the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.

But facts were scant, and reporters struggled to confirm a report in the Indianapolis Star that was based on a single named source.

Conservative media outlets questioned the girl’s existence. Fox News host Jesse Watters suggested the story could be a “hoax” intended to bolster the abortion rights position. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial Tuesday with the headline: “An abortion story too good to confirm.”

People on the left were quick to jump on and criticize any media report that pointed out how little was known about the girl and the circumstances of the crime. On July 9, Glenn Kessler, a reporter for The Washington Post, wrote that he had been unable to confirm any of the details. “This is a very difficult story to verify,” he wrote, a conclusion that prompted a series of angry comments on The Post’s website. The case became an example of how, with a highly partisan issue, a single article can become the focus of heated debate.

The facts became clearer on Wednesday, when The Columbus Dispatch reported that a man in Ohio had been prosecuted for the rape.

But by then, the debate over the case had put major publications in an uncomfortable bind. A politicized narrative had evolved faster than reporters could gather information, fueling its own news cycle outside of the facts.

“It was extreme enough that questions about it were logical questions,” said Kelly McBride, a media ethicist at the Poynter Institute. But, she added, journalists should report to answer questions and “not just publish more opinions without more additional facts.”

A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on the statements by Mr. Watters or other anchors, but pointed to network reports Tuesday that corroborated the case. A Wall Street Journal spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

The Indianapolis Star first brought the case to public attention in a July 1 article examining restrictions on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. The article referred to a case of Dr. Caitlin Bernard. Dr. Bernard, an OB/GYN from Indianapolis, treated a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who traveled to Indiana for abortion services because she had exceeded the home state’s recently imposed six-week abortion limit. her.

The horrific story attracted international attention. A week later, Biden quoted him in a White House speech in which he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision as “dead wrong.”

But conservative politicians raised questions about whether the victim was real. They noted that the reports had been based on a single source, a doctor who had treated the patient. They noted that Dr. Bernard was not answering questions from other news organizations about the case and that there did not appear to be any public records to confirm it. Some declared it “fake news.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost raised questions about the case this week when he said in an interview on Fox News that he had found no evidence of such a victim, telling USA Today Network’s Ohio bureau: “Shame on the Indianapolis newspaper that published this thing in a single source that has an obvious ax to grind.”

Steve Krakauer, a media critic for The First, a conservative publication run by former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, was among those who tweeted his skepticism and questioned whether there would be any media introspection “when the 10 years- Old abortion story turns out to be this year’s Jussie Smollett,” a reference to the actor convicted of a hate crime hoax.

In an interview, Krakauer said he regretted the wording of his tweet. He said everyone would benefit from slowing down and not jumping to conclusions.

“There’s a rush on the right, especially now in this post-Trump world where the media has become a cultural conversation as well as just people covering the news, to show that this is just another example of the media getting it wrong.” , said. he said he.

In its article on the case on Wednesday, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Gerson Fuentes, 27, had been arrested and charged in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus with the rape of a 13-year-old girl after confessing to the policeman. Mr. Fuentes has not yet pleaded guilty.

At the court hearing, a police detective said Columbus police first learned of the crime in late June and confirmed the victim had an abortion in Indianapolis on June 30.

Amalie Nash, who oversees local news for the USA Today Network, which operates both the Indianapolis Star and the Columbus Dispatch, said in an interview that newsrooms from both states had worked together to confirm details of the case, including the search for records that could be reported publicly.

“I don’t think it’s a big surprise that when a story of that nature comes to light that can be used by either side of the political spectrum to advance their causes, that something like this is going to happen, that it’s going to be called into question,” she said. Mrs. Nash.

Ms Nash said Wednesday’s scoop had so far received around 1.5 million reader views, a lot for a local newspaper.

“Our reporter was the only one who was in the courtroom during the arraignment, and he is someone who is in the community, who has resources, who can get there much faster than someone could on a national scale,” said. he said he.

Some publications that had been involved in the case updated their articles with the new information. Mr. Kessler of The Washington Post wrote on Twitter: “Now, a rapist has been charged and the story has been updated. I get a lot of angry emails, but journalism is an accumulation of facts.”

The Wall Street Journal noted the new facts in an editorial on Thursday. But he argued that the way to help the country find a consensus on abortion is to “make sure that stories about abortion, from either side of the debate, can be easily confirmed.”

Conservative media outlets were less apologetic and focused on Fuentes’ status as an undocumented immigrant. Mr. Watters, the Fox News anchor who raised questions about the case, said Wednesday night that his television show had “put the pressure on and now we’re glad justice is being done.”

Mr. Yost, the Ohio attorney general, who suggested the story was fabricated, issued a statement Wednesday that said, “My heart aches for the pain suffered by this little boy.”

Others focused on Dr. Bernard. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, said on Fox News Wednesday night that he would investigate whether the doctor failed to report the assault and abortion, and suggested that Dr. Bernard failed to do so in other cases.

On Thursday, the Indianapolis Star reported that records obtained through a public records request showed that Dr. Bernard had made the required reports. Kathleen DeLaney, an attorney for Dr. Bernard, said in a statement that Dr. Bernard was considering taking legal action against Mr. Rokita and others. Mr. Rokita responded: “As we said, we are collecting evidence from multiple sources and agencies related to these allegations. Our legal review remains open.”

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