Auschwitz in Ireland: L’Humanité on Ireland’s mass graves

The falsehoods and exaggerations — need I say, the hysteria — surrounding the Irish orphanage story has been a sorry spectacle for those who love the craft of reporting. The first reports of a mass grave in a septic tank containing up to 800 unbaptized babies at a Catholic orphanage has been proven to be false as have many of the other extraordinary claims of incredible, monstrous behavior.

The push back began almost immediately, however, as reporters began to examine the claims in detail. The Associated Press printed a correction on June 20, 2014, stating:

In stories published June 3 and June 8 about young children buried in unmarked graves after dying at a former Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms; documents show that many children at the orphanage were baptized. The AP also incorrectly reported that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers; although that may have occurred in practice at times it was not church teaching. In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any. The June 3 story also contained an incorrect reference to the year that the orphanage opened; it was 1925, not 1926.

Note the subordinate clause in the second to last sentence — “if any.”

The story has shifted from 800 unbaptized dead babies in a septic tank to an acknowledgement that there might not be any bodies in the tank. For a detailed study of this sorry chapter in journalism I recommend the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue’s paper “Ireland’s ‘mass grave’ hysteria.”

The revelation that this is a junk story has not stopped some newspapers from adding their own exclusive revelations.

France awoke a few days ago to the news that the 796 dead babies in the septic tank were the subjects of medical experimentation, according to L’Humanité. The dead children may have been (not the conditional tense) the victims of experimental vaccinations by the British company GlaxoSmithKline carried out with the blessings of the Catholic Church and the Irish State.

Il y a trois semaines, 796 cadavres de nourrissons nés hors mariage entre 1925 et 1961 ont été exhumés d’une fosse commune à côté du couvent ?de Tuam. Un taux de mortalité supérieur à la moyenne qui fait craindre que ces « baby homes » aient été le lieu d’essais vaccinaux sur des bébés.

Three weeks ago the remains of 796 infants born out of wedlock between 1925 and 1961 were exhumed from a mass grave near a convent in Tuam. This higher than average mortality rate raises concerns that these “baby homes” were the scene of vaccination trials on infants.

The article, which is behind a pay wall, approaches the story through the concerns of Susan Lohan, the co-founder of an adoption rights alliance.

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Was Catholic ‘teaching’ involved in latest Ireland scandal?

If I have heard this statement once at pro-life rallies I have heard it a hundred times: There are crisis pregnancies, but there is no such thing — in the eyes of God — as an unwanted child. This statement is especially popular with doctrinally conservative Catholics.

So, try to combine that thought with the news coming out of Ireland. This is from the Associated Press:

DUBLIN – The Catholic Church in Ireland is facing fresh accusations of child neglect after a researcher found records for 796 young children believed to be buried in a mass grave beside a former orphanage for the children of unwed mothers.

The researcher, Catherine Corless, says her discovery of child death records at the Catholic nun-run home in Tuam, County Galway, suggests that a former septic tank filled with bones is the final resting place for most, if not all, of the children.

Church leaders in Galway, western Ireland, said they had no idea so many children who died at the orphanage had been buried there, and said they would support local efforts to mark the spot with a plaque listing all 796 children.

County Galway death records showed that the children, mostly babies and toddlers, died often of sickness or disease in the orphanage during the 35 years it operated from 1926 to 1961. The building, which had previously been a workhouse for homeless adults, was torn down decades ago to make way for new houses.

There is no need to discuss the details of that horrific vision.

The question the story has to address, of course, is why these lost children were buried in such a fashion. Also, the story says it is essential to know that, during the era in which this orphanage was open, Ireland had “one of the worst infant mortality rates in Europe, with tuberculosis rife.”

The essential question here is whether what happened here is essentially an Irish, or cultural, practice or was it justified at the time as uniquely Catholic, in terms of doctrine. Think of this issue, perhaps, as similar to the debates about whether “honor killings” in Pakistan are uniquely cultural, tribal or somehow, for those committing the acts, rooted in what they believe are Islamic beliefs.

This leads us to the crucial paragraphs in the story:

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Is it legal to let St. Patrick be St. Patrick? (Plus MZ zinger)

I guess that the crucial question — at this moment in time — is whether St. Patrick’s Day parades have anything to do with St. Patrick. In other words, are these events connected, in any meaningful way, with Catholic tradition, doctrine and history?

I know that, in the past, it has been easier to argue that these parades — especially in America’s major urban centers in the Northeast and upper Midwest — have been testimonies to Irish culture, pride and political clout. The archbishop may be there, but the essence of the event was found in the presence of local politicians who needed the votes of Irish laborers.

But what is the reality right now, at this moment in church-state history?

You can find some clues in the rather stock Reuters report about the pro-gay-rights pressures on Guinness — which were successful — to pull it’s sponsorship of the New York City parade.

On Friday, two other major beer companies, Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co and Heineken dropped their sponsorship of parades in Boston and New York, respectively, over the issue.

Representatives for the New York board of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, which has run the parade for more than 150 years, could not be reached for comment on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the day Boston Mayor Marty Walsh skipped his city’s parade when he couldn’t negotiate a deal with organizers, the conservative Allied War Veteran’s Council, to allow members of MassEquality, one of Massachusetts’ largest gay activist groups, to join. …

Organizers of St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston, among the most liberal-leaning cities in the United States, have come under increasing criticism in recent years for banning openly gay marchers. Parade organizers argue that to do so would conflict with their Roman Catholic heritage. The Catholic church contends that homosexual activity is immoral.

Now in my humble opinion, I think it would help to know something about the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, since this organization is at the heart of this annual skirmish in the Culture Wars. I find it interesting that few of the mainstream stories that I saw this year about these events offered detailed information on this point. However, the group’s website, on the front page, notes:

We are the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States. The AOH is a place to meet like minded Irish Americans who share the same values and beliefs. …

Through it’s charitable arm, Hibernian Charity, a 501c-3 not-for-profit, the AOH is able to raise money for a number of Irish and Catholic causes in the this country and in Ireland.

Whatever it’s symbolism found in this organization, in terms of culture and politics, there does seem to be a religion hook in there somewhere.

Thus, a key journalism question is this: Does this religious group still have a right to march in public streets while declining to openly undercut the doctrines of its church? In other words, does the “free exercise of religion” still include public displays of faith?

Has anyone seen that issue raised in St. Patrick’s coverage this year?

This issue is openly discussed at the Irish Queers website, a center for activism against the beliefs of the Hibernians:

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Abortion blindness in the New York Times

Three cheers for my Get Religion colleague Mollie Hemingway! She has done a fantastic job this week pointing out the professional failures of the national press coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia. The self-censorship of the New York Times on this issue is of Walter Duranty-like proportions.

But the Gosnell case is not an isolated incident when it comes to questionable abortion reporting — they have form. There is a blindness in the Times coverage of abortion — they see only what they want to see. Or, there is a sleight of hand at work here — like the three card monte dealer they promise you a fair game as the cards pass before your eyes — but the hand always comes out in favor of the dealer — and in this game the rightness of abortion always comes up aces.

Take the Irish abortion controversy that dominated the media for a few weeks after the election. Last November/December the Times ran six stories on the death of Savita Halappanavar.  The lede of its first report set the tone of its subsequent coverage:

The death of a woman who was reportedly denied a potentially lifesaving abortion even while she was having a miscarriage has revived debate over Ireland’s almost total ban on abortions.

The stories that followed focused on Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws — and upon claims that an abortion was not performed when the life of the mother was in danger because of Ireland’s Catholic culture.

Dr. Halappanavar contracted a bacterial blood infection, septicemia, and died Oct. 28, a week after she was admitted to Galway University Hospital with severe back pains. She was 17 weeks pregnant but having a miscarriage and was told that the fetus — a girl — would not survive. Her husband said she asked several times for an abortion but was informed that under Irish law it would be illegal while there was a fetal heartbeat, because “this is a Catholic country.”

The coroners inquest this past week in Ireland has seen blow by blow reports in the Irish and British press — with some papers publishing updates after each session. The Times returned to the story on 11 April 2013 with an article that backed the editorial line taken last year.

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Savita’s tragic death and media ethics

The tragic death of Savita Halappananvar continues to produce headlines, particularly in Europe and India. We looked at some of the initial coverage three weeks ago, where I noted that the US media had adopted the pro-choice movement’s certainty about the circumstances surrounding Savita Halappanavar’s death.

I wondered whether about the journalistic rigor being applied to the story, both in terms of the medical statements being made prior to a review as well as the blame being assigned the Catholic Church. In short, the claims that were made about what happened in the hospital and the blame assigned to the Catholic Church weren’t exactly matching up with evidence or with Catholic teaching.

None of this stopped the rather dramatic rush to judgment. To that end, I wanted to share a few links about recent updates to the story regarding the initial journalism.

Here’s the top of Christine Odone’s report in the Telegraph:

The journalist who broke the story about Savita Halappananvar’s tragic death now admits that the facts were “a little muddled”.

In an astonishing radio interview, Kitty Holland of The Irish Times admits that her report was based on the husband’s version of events, but that in fact there may have been “no request for a termination”. Her earlier account stated that Mrs Halappananvar, an Indian in Ireland who was expecting a baby, had begged for a termination when complications arose with the birth; hospital staff denied her the abortion, allegedly saying: “This is a Catholic country”.

Holland’s exclusive tale of the tragic death made headlines around the world. Pro-abortion groups seized upon the story to condemn any review of abortion laws. Protesters chanting “Never again!”marched in Irish cities. Holland’s report ensured that abortion was hailed as a life-saving operation; that it should be cruelly denied a young woman was further proof (if any were needed) that the Catholic Church was backward and barbarian.

Except that none of this may be quite as it seems.

You’re probably not even surprised at this point. More on the Holland interview here. In a Catholic Culture piece headlined “ In Ireland, the case for legal abortion is built on fraud,” we’re told:

There is no evidence that Savita Halappanavar sought an abortion. There is no evidence that an abortion would have saved her life. There is, in fact, no evidence to support a connection between the abortion issue and this poor woman’s death. The reporter, Kitty Holland, told an RTE broadcast audience that her story never claimed an abortion would have saved the young woman’s life.But the headline—“Woman denied a termination dies in hospital’—certainly conveyed that impression. And in the days since the story appeared, dozens of Irish politicians and pundits have joined in clamorous calls for an end to the country’s abortion ban.

The reporter goes on to talk about Catholic teaching and Irish law. He adds:

If they genuinely wanted to prevent another such tragic death, Irish reporters would be scrambling to learn what actually happened in the Halappanavar case. But there is no competition to expose the medical facts. On the contrary, media outlets appear willing to let the exploitation proceed unchecked. The Irish Independent learned that the proponents of legal abortion learned about Savita Halappanavar’s death 3 days before the news became public, and held a strategy session to discuss how they might capitalize on the tragedy. That cynical manipulation went unreported elsewhere; other reporters were too busy taking their cues from the abortion advocates.

The article ends by saying that honesty in coverage would help:

What would it take to stop this political juggernaut? Just one thing: honesty. But as we Americans can testify, when it comes to the abortion debate, honesty is in short supply.v

No one could look critically at the deception and manipulation at the beginning of this year with the media’s treatment of Planned Parenthood and Komen and say otherwise.

In Tim Stanley’s piece for the Telegraph, he raises some important points about media ethics:

Perhaps what was most disturbing about the Savita story is how it was leaked to pro-choice activists before it was broken by the Irish Times. At least three days before the story went public, Irish Choice Network was notified by email that “a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week,” and that it would be followed by a pre-arranged protest. We can infer that someone at either the Irish Times or the Health Services Executive conspired to use a private tragedy to push a political agenda. It’s all very Alinsky.

Run a news search on Savita’s death and you’ll find very little in the mainstream press that addresses these problems or, more importantly, corrects earlier false reports. It’s as if the story never happened. Perhaps it would have been better if it hadn’t. Rather than waiting for a proper investigation of what went wrong, some chose to broadcast the opinions of understandably distressed family members as if they were indisputable facts. And the commentary accompanying the journalism drew a straight, short line between an individual’s death and the Catholic Church. The takeaway: Catholicism kills.

There’s much more in his column about media treatment of Catholicism.

Finally, Breda O’Brien’s piece in the Irish Times headlined “Line between journalists’ opinions and reporting increasingly blurred” is also worth a perusal. There’s this interesting bit about how at least 37 Irish journalists, including nine from the Times and others from the nationalized broadcaster RTÉ, tweeted that they were taking part in pro-choice marches: The end of her piece is fascinating, though, and speaks to how the media shape the way we think about social issues:

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics, … believes that we have a dual-process brain, which he dubs System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is lightning fast, intuitive, and non-linear. Without it, we could not survive, because System 2 is slow, linear and energy-intensive.

We believe that we operate from System 2, in other words, that we are rational and objective, but we are operating most of the time from System 1.

Kahneman speaks of “self-sustaining chains of events”, that activate System 1 and virtually neutralise System 2. They often start from media reports, but lead to public panic and government action.

“The emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media.” Anyone urging caution is accused of a “heinous cover-up”.

It is simply a fact that the majority of people working in the media share a particular worldview on social issues. For example, think about how often panels in RTÉ consist of people who share pro-choice views, with perhaps a token pro-life voice.

Now think of any time you heard a panel consisting of a majority of anti-abortion advocates.

Does the latter seem preposterous, and the first normal? Kahneman would smile. System 1 to the fore, once again. But the role of reporters, presenters and producers is not to start “self-sustaining chains of events”.

Or at least so their codes of ethics would seem to suggest.

System 1 is at the fore here in the States, too. I hope that there is still a desire to approach news rationally and objectively, though.

Angry man with hammer image via Shutterstock.

On media malpractice and Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death

Back in March I wrote in “How To Cover A Hate Crime” about my obsession about the horrific beating death of Shaima Al Awadhi, a 32-year-old mother of five:

Apparently other people have been obsessed, too, as there are literally thousands of stories out there about the crime — virtually all of them centered around it being an alleged hate crime.

In April I wrote in “Reporting The Hate In Hate Crimes“:

When we looked at stories last week, we noticed that the media seemed to be pretty sure that the murder was a hate crime and that meme dominated the coverage. Rather dramatically dominated the coverage. That remains the case.

Anti-hate crime protest movements sprung up globally as communities expressed widespread outrage over the circumstances of her death. I asked if the media should wait for more information before running with a hate crime story. I noted that if it weren’t a hate crime, the media would look horrible and irresponsible in how they handled it. Was there enough information to frame this as a hate crime story? What facts should the media wait for, I wondered, before running with the hate crime angle?

This week we learned that Al Awadhi’s husband was charged with her murder.

I thought of that rush to judgment when readers began sending along stories about another woman’s tragic death. One wrote:

The story is about a Hindu woman in Ireland who died when Drs refused to do an abortion on the grounds that ‘this is a Catholic country’. Expect the story to get legs in the US as the prochoice movement is already pushing it at Progressive sites. Might check it out.

Indeed, the US media have adopted the pro-choice movement’s certainty about the circumstances surrounding Savita Halappanavar’s death. A casual trip around the internet will yield plenty of stories with headlines and ledes of “woman dies because she was denied an abortion.” The Times of India went with “Ireland murders pregnant Indian dentist.” Those stories tend to place blame on the Roman Catholic Church based on the widower’s claim that his wife died because she was refused an abortion and the reason for such was because Ireland is a Catholic country.

Pro-choice activists and the media have said Halappanavar’s death should force changes to Ireland’s abortion laws, which protect unborn children from termination.

That is a very complicated and interesting debate to have, but for our purposes, we’re only interested in media coverage of this story.

Irish Times has a good roundup of America media reaction.

One medical professional wrote to us that “Most journalists don’t ‘get religion’ any more than they ‘get medical science.’ … What really bothers me about the story is that it recklessly thrusts upon an uneducated public an unproven and questionable assertion that this woman would have lived if she had been allowed to have an abortion. The more detailed stories that I have read indicate that she died of septicemia AND and E.coli ESBL. This provides valid reason to question whether this woman would have survived, regardless of the treatment. This ESBL-producing E.coli strain is harder to treat than MRSA. The E.coli ESBL infection may not have even been related to the miscarriage initially, but she’s been cremated, so there is no way to do further investigation. The E.coli ESBL could have been the cause of the miscarriage in the first place. Again, my point is that there is no conclusive evidence that earlier termination of the pregnancy would have saved this woman. She had a terribly antibiotic resistant infection that caused septicemia. It is very possible that her death could have been hastened (and actually was) by the medical removal (D & C) of the baby, dead or alive. If there was infection in the uterus, once the blood vessels were ruptured the infection quickly became systemic, and antibiotics were of no help.”

I do wonder whether the media has any responsibility to wait for the facts of the medical investigation before concluding the cause of death. To be fair, this Irish Times report says one government health official (who said “I am privy to certain facts but I am not privileged to share them”) that “often in a case where miscarriage was inevitable, it was the view of the medical experts that allowing that to occur naturally represented the safest option.” Still, this viewpoint isn’t exactly being highlighted in the above stories.

When did the infection present? Was it related to the miscarriage? What were the medical options that were available? Do the medical professionals agree with the widower’s assessment of the course of treatment? Did the medical professionals follow the law? What are the established protocols? We know that Ireland does permit induction to save the health of the mother. What went into the decision to avoid that in this case? Is this a story about medical malpractice? Should these questions be answered before running with the story in the manner it’s running?

OK, moving on from the medical issue, what about the way Catholic teaching is being presented? If the allegations against the hospital are true, was the hospital treating its patients according to Catholic teaching? Has the media explained Catholic teaching well in this matter? If not, why not? How does the Catholic Church’s teaching that the lives of both mother and child need to be cared for relate to this particular circumstance? The Anchoress has some helpful links on that matter here.

There’s much more that can and will be looked at here. Here’s some trenchant media analysis. Do let us know if you see any examples of good journalism on this sad story (or particularly noteworthy advocacy).

And here’s a video of Savita Halappanavar dancing the ‘Zor Ka Zhatkha’ with her husband Praveen and another couple at a Diwali festival two years ago. It’s difficult to watch the young and beautiful couple, so full of joy and life, in light of the tragedy of her death.


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