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.