Times Readers Revolt Against "Plantation-Style" Photos in Surrogacy Article

Readers didn't appreciate the rich woman/poor servant feel of Times' reporter Alex Kuczynski's article on hiring a surrogate to bear her child.

Sometimes the Times' Manhattan-centric elitism is so glaringly obvious even its well-heeled readership flinches. Public Editor Clark Hoyt tackled public backlash to last week's Sunday's magazine cover story on surrogacy by Alex Kuczynski in his latest Sunday Week in Review column.

Kuczynski, an author and former Times reporter, wrote about her battle with infertility and the experience of having another woman bear her baby for $25,000. But many readerscomplained to Hoyt thatthe rich woman/poor servant aspect of the story and especially the accompanying photographs suggested elitism.

Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Online, for one, could not "help wondering whether the story told in the pictures that accompany the piece, including a plantation-style shot with a 'baby nurse,' is more true than the one in the text."

Hoyt wrote:

Howard Saunders of Hudson, N.Y., was furious that, with all the serious news to be covered, "the NY Times has disgraced itself by giving so much prominent ink" to Kuczynski, who came off to many readers as a rich woman in a rarefied world of servants and multiple homes, able to enjoy skiing, whitewater rafting and the Super Bowl while her surrogate was pregnant....the article focused almost totally on the wealthy Kuczynski and her feelings without giving a voice to Cathy Hilling, the substitute teacher who bore her son. The article glossed over their class and economic differences, but the accompanying photographs seemed to emphasize them. The cumulative impact struck some readers as elitist.

Some readers were so offended by the pictures that they never even tried to read Kuczynski's account of her struggle to have a child. One photograph showed her holding her son on the lawn of her Southampton home, columns along a wide veranda with white wicker in the background, a uniformed baby nurse standing at attention. Two pages later, Hilling was shown pregnant, leaning back on her dilapidated-looking porch in Harleysville, Pa., weeds peeking out from beneath it, a dog lying at her side. To many readers, the pictures screamed rich woman exploiting poor woman.