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.
As far as I can tell L'Humanité does no actual new reporting but links to recent stories like The Daily Beast's "Irish Care Home Scandal Grows As Children Revealed To Be Used As Vaccine Guinea Pigs" or Salon's "The Catholic Irish babies scandal: It gets much worse" for a French audience.
One story reports that 80 children in Catholic orphanages became seriously ill after they were given an experimental vaccine intended for cattle. The records of the tests, conducted by Burroughs-Wellcome, since purchased by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), cannot be found nor were any journal articles published as a result of the study. The second states that records from these homes show that 2000 children were given a diphtheria vaccine by researchers from Burroughs-Wellcome in a drug trial that ran from 1930 to 1936. The results of these clinical trials were reported in contemporary medical journals.
L'Humanité starts off with a false statement -- that 796 cadavers were exhumed -- when, as the AP has conceded, no bodies have been exhumed, and then lets its imagination run wild. The result is this horror of a news report, an advocacy piece that seeks to convince you that the Catholic church is as bad as the Nazis.
I admit that holding a French Communist newspaper to the standards of balance and integrity as defined by classical Anglo-American journalism may be akin to comparing apples and oranges. But I will still mount my high horse and declaim why this is shoddy reporting. Facts matter, even in advocacy journalism.
The tone of L'Humanité's story is fiercely anti-Catholic and anti-clerical, peopled with two-dimensional heroes and villains. No real human beings appear in this story, only cartoons. Coupled with false statements of fact, unsupported assertions, an absence of nuance, no attempt to present opposing views and no context -- this story serves merely to entertain and enrage.
Those who come to the story with a desire to hate will find fuel for their fire. Those who seek to learn what happened will receive an unpleasant harangue. Reader beware!