Jun 13, 2014

Why Australia’s media bought the ‘Irish babies in the septic tank’ story

The world was outraged at news of the bodies of 800 Irish babies had been found in a septic tank. As it turns out, no bodies have been found at all. Dr Steven Knowlton, professor of journalism at Dublin City University, explains why we were so eager to believe this story.

“Bodies of 800 children, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” was the headline in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Almost 800 ‘forgotten’ Irish children dumped in septic tank mass grave at Catholic home,” said the ABC. “796 Irish orphans in a septic tank tomb,” pronouncedĀ The Australian. The problem? There is little evidence that there are any bodies in that infamous septic tank at all.

Why is the story being reported everywhere if it might not be true? As many a news reporter has learned with chagrin and horror, it is often the headlines and photo captions that do you in — those bits of the newspaper you did not write but are in close proximity to the story you did.

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10 thoughts on “Why Australia’s media bought the ‘Irish babies in the septic tank’ story

  1. klewso

    Yet the media wonders why they – with their opinion-laden conversion of news to views, churning news into “entertainment” – aren’t taken seriously?

  2. Jelly Belly

    maybe instead of spending millions of dollars and several years on an investigation they could spend a hundred grand and a few days digging up the site in question? or is that too logical for the irish?

  3. AR

    A long bow to draw perhaps but, at base, the same gynophobia that drives the 3 religions of the Book stones women to death for rape (see Genesis) or beheading (see Anne Boleyn)also sets them to work in steaming, commercial laundries for expiation.

  4. Delerious

    What worries me about this article is the assumption that there is nothing unusual about 800 babies/children dying in this home and no burial site can be found. We aren’t talking 100 years ago. There has also been further investigation that these homes were used to test immunisation. I’m guessing it would take an Irish man, brought up in Ireland, rising to a prominent position, in which he would have had to rely on the Catholic Church patronage to achieve, to admit that something is not quite right with the Catholic Church in Ireland.

  5. jmendelssohn

    Bearing in mind that these orphanages appear to have been established at a time when there were living memories of the Irish Famine, when many died of starvation, I am surprised that this catastrophic event is not seen as a part of the context for the treatment of unmarried women and their babies. In a world where death was so common,and life held so cheap it would be easy for those in authority to become cruel.

  6. Dion Giles

    One never knows, maybe if they do some digging and sifting they’ll find Saddam’s hidden WMDs.

  7. klewso

    “Infant mortality” back then wasn’t such a big deal – life was precarious and tenuous, without all these modern miracles we have – it was accepted with sad resignation as “a part of life’s gamble”, especially among the less affluent without access to the limited resources available.

  8. mikeb

    Not finding burial records doesn’t mean that they were not buried. No wonder you must treat with scepticism everything you read or hear these days.

  9. MJPC

    Klewso you have said it in one. The media now looks for attention getting, sensational headlines to lead the news, sell papers etc. The public have often been duped by the media into accepting into truth what is plain bollocks.
    Journo’s are now ambulance chasers, not checking the facts and falling for all sorts of stories based on, sometimes, spurious “facts”.
    I am surprised at Corless accepting the “eyewitness” account of a child now midddle aged. How many years have passed since the bones (how many?)in the tank were seen. If such bones were there, why could they not have been animal, or was the child versed in forensic investigation? Eye witness testimony after long periods is notoriously suspect, and subject to embellishment as the years go on. What John Stuart Mills stated long ago, stands the test of time: “Truths not subject to continual challenge eventually cease to have the effect of truth by being exaggerated into falsehood”.

  10. Luke Hellboy

    Yet another example of the seemingly inevitable devolution from news to ‘click-bait’

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