The Associated Press apologizes

Recently American (and other countries’) newspapers ran headlines proclaiming “Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” (The Washington Post), “800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” (The New York Daily News), and “Galway historian finds 800 babies in septic tank grave” (The Boston Globe). These headlines were based on “reporting” by the Associated Press (AP), which has issued an apology, since much of what it sent out “over the wire” was inaccurate, to say the least. The remains of 800 babies have not been found, there has been no excavation and the mass burial site was not known to be used as a septic tank when the victims of disease or malnutrition (not murder, as was hinted) were buried in it.

This past Monday the AP apologized for the hysteria it had unleashed (you can read the whole article at “Revelations this month that nuns had buried nearly 800 infants and young children in unmarked graves at an Irish orphanage during the last century caused stark headlines and stirred strong emotions and calls for investigation. Since then, however, a more sober picture has emerged that exposes how many of those headlines were wrong.”

The Jesuit-run America magazine earlier this month had exposed a lot of the hyperbole which had occurred in the reporting on this story. Kevin Clarke wrote, “Trouble is, there may be much less to the story than the horror suggested by those initial headlines. It is a sad reality, as the Church continues to grapple with the legacy of its insufficient, at times negligent response to the sex abuse crisis, that a story as gothic and cruel as the Galway babies could come to be accepted at news-face value. Don’t get me wrong; there remains plenty to fret over and investigate regarding the Bon Secours’ home and the manner of the final disposition of these children. Official site visits of the 1940s recorded deplorable conditions and include depressing descriptions of the state of the children there. What is not clear is how much this suffering can be ascribed to the poverty of the institution itself, the deplorable state of Irish country society at the time — infant mortality ran high whether at this ‘home’ or within a normally impoverished home of Tuam (my grandfather’s hometown) — and how much of the babies’ neglect and their allegedly thoughtless disposal can be ascribed to cruelty and indifference among the Sisters themselves.”

In the AP’s correction, it noted, “Until recent weeks, nobody had put a precise number on the fatalities at Tuam. [Catherine] Corless [a local researcher] spent months — and more than 3,000 euros ($4,000) of her own money — buying copies of death certificates and organizing them. Her list of the dead shows that nearly 80 percent were younger than one; two died within 10 minutes of birth and never received first names. Ninety-one died in the 1920s, 247 in the 1930s, 388 in the 1940s, 70 in the 1950s, and one more child in 1960. The most common causes were flu, measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis and whooping cough. Contrary to the allegations of widespread starvation highlighted in some reports, only 18 children were recorded as suffering from severe malnutrition.”

The AP had the decency also to apologize for running the claim that the Church had denied Baptism to children born outside of Marriage. “The Associated Press was among the media organizations that covered Corless and her findings, repeating incorrect Irish news reports that suggested the babies who died had never been baptized and that Catholic Church teaching guided priests not to baptize the babies of unwed mothers or give to them Christian burials. The reports of denial of Baptism later were contradicted by the Tuam Archdiocese, which found a registry showing that the home had baptized more than 2,000 babies. The AP issued a corrective story on [June 20] after discovering its errors.”

America’s Clarke criticized the British newspaper, The Independent, which had written, “Each new detail of what is being called the Irish Holocaust brings fresh horror.” Clarke attacked that description, saying, “The ‘fresh horror’ of the Galway babies now apparently represents ‘the Irish Holocaust,’ called so by, hmm, not clear, though many might argue that the starvation of one-third of the Irish population by British policy and the flight of a third more during the previous century might make a better candidate for that title. In fact many locals throughout this controversy have remained unimpressed by the home babies story as many ‘mass graves’ dating back to the famine times have been unearthed from time to time in this part of Galway. The Great Hunger was just one of the many hungers which claimed lives here throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Brendan O’Neill, editor of the online magazine Spiked! (he is a self-described “atheistic libertarian” and a “Marxist”), commented, “Whenever the exaggerations and myths about Ireland’s past are exposed, the same thing is said: OK, these might have been lies but they were good lies, because they got people talking about the history of Catholic abuse in Ireland.” He pointed out how a few facts got warped into an incredible scandal: “A hysterical piece in the Irish Independent compared the Tuam home to the Nazi Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebrenica, saying that in all these settings people were killed ‘because they were scum.’ So in the space of a few days, without the benefit of any excavation or digging, we went from speculative claims made by a modest local researcher about the whereabouts of 796 children to heated talk across the world media about an Irish holocaust on a par with what the Nazis did to Jewish children. 

What madness is this? How did speculation that some children out of 796 might have been buried in a former septic tank become news headlines about 800 dead children having been found in a septic tank, leading to comparisons being made between Ireland’s old nuns and the architects of the Nazi Holocaust? Clearly this isn’t about news anymore; it isn’t a desire for facts or truth that elevated the crazed claims about Tuam up the agenda; rather, a mishmash of anti-Catholic prejudice, Irish self-hatred and the modern thirst for horror stories involving children turned Tuam into one of the worst reported stories of 2014 so far.”

Pia de Solenni had a blog this week at entitled “Tuam Horror Story Unraveling As Mosul Burns,” reporting about our fellow Christians (and other innocent people) being killed by ISIS there. Father Landry comments to the right of this editorial about how our religious freedom is under threat from Moslem fundamentalism, communism, and secularism (in Western countries, where stories such as the Tuam one are easily believed, since the Catholic Church supposedly is always on the march to oppress people). May we remember that the truth will set us free and may we live that freedom (as Claire McManus suggests on page nine) in a way which will bring people to the love of Jesus. 

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts