Fake News Watch: 1. The Graves

This was another bad week for media trust, or would be, if the news media would fairly report its own unethical behavior.

Sometimes my instincts serve me well. I have piles of New York Times articles lying around my office, all intended to be the basis of future posts. Back in October, I was preparing to write a post based on this story and this one, about “evidence that 215 children were buried on the grounds of a British Columbia school, one of the many in Canada set up to forcibly assimilate them.” The stories about mass graves started arriving in May of last year, and the allegations were horrific. “In the past four weeks, two Indigenous communities said they have discovered hundreds of unmarked graves of children who may have died at the schools of disease or neglect, or even been killed,” wrote the Times.

I didn’t write that post; something about the story seemed off to me. This was true despite the fact that my confirmation bias regarding misdeeds on the part of the Catholic Church, which ran the schools, is strong.

It didn’t seem off to the mainstream media, though. CNN reported a “gruesome discovery.” The Washington Post wrote that the “mass grave” “dragged the horror of Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people back into the spotlight.” The unmarked burial place of children was reported to the public as fact. The photo above, from the National Post, was captioned, “Hundreds of children’s shoes remain in place at a memorial outside the Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton on Monday May 31, 2021. A vigil was held Sunday May 30, 2021 in memory of the 215 indigenous children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a former Roman Catholic church residential school in Kamloops, B.C.”

Naturally, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau tweeted that the discovery “is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.” The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called it “a large scale human rights violation.” Tribal leaders, naturally, wielded the report like a club.  This was evidence, they said, of “mass murder of indigenous people,” and “attempted genocide.” Investigations and reparations were in order. Catholic bishops decried and apologized for the church’s role in operating the apparently deadly schools. The Pope, it was reported, was considering traveling to Canada.

Yesterday, the Federalist revealed that contrary to the mainstream news narrative that had circulated since last summer, “not one body has been found, and not a single shovel-full of dirt has been excavated from the site in question. Contrary to the worldwide media coverage last summer, nothing, in fact, has been “discovered” on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

It seems that a single press release issued at the end of May by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation was considered sufficient to stamped the mainstream media. The release said that that ground-penetrating radar had revealed the remains near the site of the Kamloops school, one of the largest schools for indigenous youth that operated from the 1890s to the 1970s. The investigation was supposed to continue in conjunction with the British Columbia Coroner’s Office., because the radar findings weren’t true evidence of any “mass grave” and wouldn’t be until actual remains were excavated. No remains have been recovered though, and the “horrible discovery” was seven months ago.

The anthropologist named Sarah Beaulieu who did the original scan said at news conference back in July that the “probable gravesites” could not be confirmed until excavations were completed. Professor Jacques Rouillard, at the Université de Montréal, recently published a detailed essay in The Dorchester Review on the record of such “discoveries.” There is no evidence, he found, in any of the historical records kept by the government that there were mass cover-ups of the deaths of indigenous children at these schools, no evidence of unmarked mass graves, and no evidence that the schools neglected to inform parents of deaths.

There are marked, individual graves of children on the grounds of the Kamloops school and others. However, the allegations of “thousands” of abused and missing indigenous children made by tribes was just too juicy and sensational to confirm. You know: “Believe all victims.”

The government’s treatment of the indigenous families should be scandal enough. Often their children were taken away and forced to attend these schools, which were underfunded and cruelly operated. When children died, the government usually refused to pay to have their remains transported back to their tribal communities, and buried them in school cemeteries. None of this, however, justifies the mass publicity of fake news.

John Daniel Davidson writes,

What all of this suggests, especially in the complete absence of any confirmed evidence of a “mass grave” or a coverup, is that the whole story is a giant fiction. Its purpose was to provoke a moral panic, demonize the Catholic Church, and make global headlines by peddling historical grievances. And it worked exactly as planned.

I think that’s a leap, though a valid thesis. This is the news media in 2022: is it malice, or is it incompetence? Hanlon’s Razor looms. However, it hardly matters: the news media lies, is biased, makes up stuff, reports rumor as truth, and doesn’t check its facts.

_________________

Pointer: Several readers emailed me links to the Federalist piece, and it was mentioned in yesterday’s Open Forum as well. Thanks to all.

23 thoughts on “Fake News Watch: 1. The Graves

  1. Long time reader. This is such a gross post. Apparently because the bodies of hundreds of children in a mass grave haven’t been excavated yet means they don’t exist or is something to complain about.

    These mass graves are an open secret in the community and the radar is just tangible proof of their existence. You denying this is akin to saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.

    Also, do governments normally keep historical records of mass cover-ups of the deaths of indigenous children?

    • I don’t understand. Sarah Beaulieu did the original scan. She indeed said in July that the “probable gravesites” could not be confirmed until excavations were completed. If they have not been confirmed, and are still “probable” only, then they cannot and should not be reported as fact. Correct? And if excavation was needed to confirm them as fact, why hasn’t the site been excavated after 7 months? The news reports in the Times and elsewhere did not leave any doubt whatsoever.

      “Open secrets” are not facts, as I assume you know. Again, the anthropologist who used the radar says it isn’t conclusive. No, you’re correct, governments do not normally keep historical records of mass cover-ups of the deaths of indigenous children. Nor is absence of such records proof of a cover-up.

      I suppose you know how bad your Holocaust denial analogy is. We have photographs of those bodies, not radar indications that they are “probably” what is claimed.

      I won’t be surprised if eventually it is shown that there are mass graves of Indigenous children. That won’t change the issue: the news media reported as fact what has yet to be shown to be fact. Nick Sandmann might have been abusing the Native American—but he wasn’t.Kyle Rittenhouse might have been looking for BLM demonstrators to shoot, but he wasn’t. The Federalist is correct: no bodies have been recovered, and the news reports were not accurate as reported.

      • If I am not mistaken, the Nazis kept fairly meticulous records at their death camps. And, as you noted, our troops found the actual bodies when they overran those camps. True, a lot of people in neighboring towns tried to deny they knew what was going on, but no one in the Allied armies believed any of that nonsense.

      • This is a big motte and bailey.

        You write an entire article implying the graves aren’t real, and then say “oh no, they’re probably real, but why did the media print it as fact if they haven’t excavated it yet?!”

        Because the groups involved conducted radar readings at sites everyone knew mass graves to be, and found and identified hundreds of bodies. That’s why.

        That’s news worthy. Obviously.

        Cant’t you think of a few other reasons why the graves haven’t been excavated yet? I’m sure it’s a huge undertaking that needs to be handled with sensitivity. The idea that the entire thing is a lie would be my last thought as to why the site hasn’t been excavated yet.

        You also said that it’s a valid thesis when Davidson said the entire thing could be made up.

        You can justify any view point or imply anything if you analyze descrepencies and view things in the worst way possible. Which is what you’re doing.

        Do you really believe that it’s possible the entire thing is made up?

        • Well, THAT’s all over the map! I’m pretty sure I said what I believe: the news media stated as fact what hasn’t been shown to be fact. 1. I re-read my article. I do not imply that the graves aren’t real. I state, correctly, that the “discovery” as reported hasn’t occurred, and by the very words of the “discoverer,” won’t be until there’s an excavation. 2. They did not “identify” hundreds of bodies. That’s the point. 3. I didn’t say what was discovered wasn’t newsworthy. I did say, accurately, that what was reported wasn’t what was discovered. Hence “fake news.” 4. It doesn’t matter whether there are valid reasons why the site hasn’t been excavated. It hasn’t been excavated. Until it is, the identity of the bodies is speculation, not fact. 5. “You can justify any view point or imply anything if you analyze descrepencies and view things in the worst way possible.” I don’t even know what that means. Facts are facts, Rumors are rumors. Guesses are guesses. If the bodies, assuming there are bodies, are found and identified, then there is no more doubt. And you betray your bias: why is the still viable possibility that the remains aren’t Indigenous children the “worst” way to see the current state of information? I’d say that would be the best result.

          It is very possible that what the radar identified is not mass graves of Indigenous children. And as of this second, the news reports that stated as fact that a mass grave of Indigenous children had been discovered IS made up, because it isn’t true yet.

          • Wait, you said this is a valid thesis. What does “valid thesis” mean to you pertaining to this:

            “What all of this suggests, especially in the complete absence of any confirmed evidence of a “mass grave” or a coverup, is that the whole story is a giant fiction. Its purpose was to provoke a moral panic, demonize the Catholic Church, and make global headlines by peddling historical grievances. And it worked exactly as planned.”

            Also, you say the media presented the bodies as fact when it’s not fact.

            Do you think the bodies discovered by the radar are not fact?

            You believe it’s possible the bodies aren’t actually there?

            Do you know there are other ways to determine something exists using radar technology? And there are other ways we can determine things are fact or very likely to be true based on other forms of evidence.

            Do you not believe black holes exist because we never saw then with our own eyes?

            • Roy, you’re not being honest here, or you’re confused. The media presented the radar results as bodies of indigenous children. At this point, that has not been shown. For the THIRD time, I point out that the woman who made the scan agrees that it has not been shown. A thesis is a theory. As I’ve said—twice?—I doubt that the story is a “giant fiction,” but until it is proven fact, that’s a valid theory. The burden of proof is on those who maintain that this is a “mass grave” of secretly buried students. It hasn’t been met. The burden of proof regarding black holes has been met.

              The last line is obnoxious, and echoes the idiotic arguments of Holocaust deniers. I’m a lawyer. I know the difference between supposition and proof. Until there is proof, a new story cannot say X IS fact. This shouldn’t be hard.

              • I see where the disconnect is.

                Is this statement true?

                You don’t think that the radar results are enough evidence to show or make factual that bodies of children are buried there.

                Correct?

                • The expert who took the radar readings says it’s not enough evidence, and the issue is whether Indigenous children are buried there and that the school was responsible for their deaths.

                  There’s no disconnect. For some reason you want to accept as proof what the expert admits isn’t proof.

                  • Okay. I do not agree with your interpretation that the expert says there’s not enough evidence to say there are buried children there.

                    So I am asking YOU:

                    Do you think that the radar results are not enough evidence to show or make factual that bodies of children are buried there?

                    • May I ask, with all due respect, what the hell’s the matter with you? You can’t “disagree with my interpretation” of what the expert says, because I’m not “interpreting” it AT ALL! The report on her press conference in JULY:

                      “On Thursday, Sarah Beaulieu, who performed the search just days before the preliminary results were made public, said nothing has changed substantively since her initial findings. She did, however, reduce the number of probable gravesites from 215 to 200, taking into account previous excavation work that had been done in the area that could have influenced the results.

                      She also stressed her findings can’t be confirmed unless excavations are done at the scene.

                      SHE. STRESSED. CAN’T BE CONFIRMED. UNTIL EXCAVATIONS.

                      ““Which is why we need to pull back a little bit and say that they are ‘probable burials,’ they are ‘targets of interest,’ for sure,” said Dr. Beaulieu, who has about a decade of experience searching for historic grave sites, including working with the RCMP and other First Nations communities. She said the sites “have multiple signatures that present like burials,” but that “we do need to say that they are probable, until one excavates.”

                      UNTIL ONE EXCAVATES.

                      Which still has not taken place. That’s NOT “my interpretation.” That is fact. What the news media reported is NOT fact, and that was the message of the post!

                      I have no views on the radar results at all, because I haven’t seen them, and probably wouldn’t be able to read them if I did see them. My understanding is that all of this is based only on soil abnormalities that could easily be caused by root movements, which the anthropologist herself has said.

                      Other authorities have written that Ground Penetrating Radar is an imperfect tool that is a starting point in research but not conclusive.

                • I’ve been trying to think of the best way to get this across to you. In a murder case where no body has been found, but a radar image of what appears to be a body buried in the back yard of the prime suspect is detected, that image would not be considered sufficient evidence to connect the suspect to the deceased until the body, if it is a body, is dug up and identified. Same here. A headline stating: “Image found on X’s property; Authorities suspect it might be missing man” would lead an accurate news story. “Body of missing man found on suspect’s property” would be false, fake news. The latter is the equivalent of how the “mass grave” story has been reported.

      • We don’t just have the bodies when it comes to the Holocaust. We have something more – an understandable overreaction among those who initially discovered the horrific scenes at Dachau.

        According to a 2001 Boston Globe report (http://cache.boston.com/globe/nation/packages/secret_history/index5.shtml) Dachau was so horrific that some of the GIs liberating that camp… well, let’s just say they lost their cool.

        How bad did they lose their cool? Well, let’s just say some of the Nazis in the area didn’t make it out of a coal yard.

        Here’s the thing: The United States Army covered that incident up. The GIs walked.

        • Patton threw the files in the trash and told the men to go home and forget this ever happened. I have no sympathy for the slain SS guards. The very same folks massacred surrendering men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the Royal Scots during the retreat from Dunkirk. Karma can be a real bitch.

          • There was also an incident at Malmedy involving the SS as well…

            Seriously, based on the article, I’d probably have relieved Walsh – for losing his cool. As for the GIs below him… that is one case where I think “they were just following orders” would be appropriate.

    • More: from the link (and this is why I have links):

      She also stressed her findings can’t be confirmed unless excavations are done at the scene.
      “Which is why we need to pull back a little bit and say that they are ‘probable burials,’ they are ‘targets of interest,’ for sure,” said Dr. Beaulieu, who has about a decade of experience searching for historic grave sites, including working with the RCMP and other First Nations communities. She said the sites “have multiple signatures that present like burials,” but that “we do need to say that they are probable, until one excavates.”

      The investigation has “barely scratched the surface,” covering just under two acres of the total 160-acre residential school site in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Dr. Beaulieu said.

      The Times said, in contrast, “Now an Indigenous community in British Columbia says it has found evidence of what happened to some of its missing children: a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school.” See the distinction? If the actual investigator says “we need to pull back a little bit and say that they are ‘probable burials” but the mainstream media says it IS a “mass grave,” that’s fake news.

      • It’s another question of which narrative the press and the left want to push forward. If the Czechs were to find a mass grave of victims of the Prague Spring, no one would care. If the UK was to find a grave of tortured IRA victims, no one would care (or vice versa, at least outside of Ireland). If the Chinese were to find victims of the Japanese during WW2, no one would care. But, if a grave of slaves, or natives, or any other non-white folks pops up, suddenly it’s yet another horrible tragedy that every white person must atone for.

  2. I’ve tried to stay away from this story for a couple of reasons, but I failed… Too many people were talking about it at the time. My biggest foray into it was a defense of the current Catholic Bishop of Kamloops, when Charles Adler, a once-conservative radio commentator who currently can’t find enough progressive narratives to fall in love with, called for him to explain himself. The problem was that the current Bishop of Kamloops, Joseph Phuong Nguyen, was spending the years in question in a Vietnamese prison camp.

    Which was probably my biggest reason I avoided the story: Nothing good could come of it. Nothing. Closure was impossible because those bodies won’t be identifiable. It wasn’t going to bring unity. The people involved are either dead or geriatric, it will be impossible to prove what happened, and the people holding the bag now were the next best thing to children at the time.

    The other thing that kept me from commenting was this uncomfortable feeling in the back of my head, Roy compared this to the holocaust in a comment above this, and I think that’s a poorly thought out analogy for all kinds of reasons, but what strikes me now as it struck me then is how 215 kids went missing without a witness. A response to Roy’s comment brushed this, but didn’t follow through: The Nazis kept surgically pristine records of their atrocities, there were witnesses, people who took part and felt guilty consciences afterwards, employees, service staff, other internees. The people existed, they had lives, friends, and there were records of them when they were gone. The Kamloops school operated for 85 years, and had a peak enrollment of 500 students.

    So… How does a minimum average of .5% of your school body die and get buried in the orchard without anyone knowing? Where are the stories dated before 2021? If this was such an “open secret”, why were so many people silent? Where were the families? This isn’t just a coverup from the faculty at the location, very high profile indigenous people went to that school. Leonard Marchand served in the Canadian Federal Cabinet, George Manuel was the Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood. Neither pulled their punches when it came to the depravations of the residential school system, so where were the stories about their friends disappearing? Why hasn’t a single person come forward with firsthand knowledge? Why hasn’t anyone pointed to a tree and said “Paul was buried under there”? How, if this is true, does this happen?

    It’s likely that there are bodies buried in that orchard. The entire story started with the discovery of a child’s rib bone. But we don’t know how many, and if the number is anything like what has been reported…

    • Thanks for the coverage and summary, HT and Jack. I looked into things a bit myself after reading your post/comment and have essentially arrived at the same conclusion. Residential schools were always a black mark on Canadian /Catholic history, but the Kamloops business has definitely been grossly misreported.

  3. I would appreciate a lot if Mr Marshall could talk to Jacques Rouillard and get more on Kamloops. Thank you very much anyway Mr Marshall for your insight and i will watch closely any follow up .

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