Post less gullible in Baby 81 hoax

It carried only 2 stories to the News' 9; AP reports rife with unsupported 'facts'

Feb. 26, 2005

by David Kopel

The most famous baby in the world is "Baby 81" in Sri Lanka. In late January and early February, the world media were filled with stories about the baby who was found after the tsunami, and who was claimed by nine different parents as their own child. The Denver Postran two stories on the subject, whereas theRocky Mountain Newscovered Baby 81 with nine separate pieces.

Score one for the Post'srestraint, because the Baby 81 story was mostly a hoax. As reported in Lanka Business Online on Feb. 19, the Baby 81 frenzy was the result of reporting that deserved "a Pulitzer award for embellishing, exaggerating and outright lying in print."

There were never nine couples who claimed the baby; not a single newspaper report ever quoted any parents (except for Baby 81's actual parents) who alleged that the baby was theirs. In an order returning the baby to his parents, a Sri Lankan judge wrote "There have been no nine couples as reported by the media."

Lanka Business Online explains that the world media appears, in part, to have been misled by the head of Sri Lanka's National Child Protection Authority, who was responsible for disseminating much of the false information.

It is understandable that reporters might not have applied their normal standards of skepticism to claims from the Sri Lankan official. But it's also clear that Associated Press reporters wrote into their stories "facts" which were not true, and which were attributed to no source. For example, Dilip Ganguly's AP article in the Jan. 15 Newsbegan: "The infant dubbed 'Baby 81' nurses from a bottle of milk and kicks playfully at a pink blanket as nine desperate, heartbroken women quarrel over him - all claiming he was torn from them by the tsunami."

On Jan. 28, a story in Lanka Business Online was headlined "It's a hoax." The story explained that the baby was found under some garbage by a neighbor who recognized the baby belonged to a nearby couple; that only one couple had ever claimed parentage; and that the local police were investigating who had started the hoax about nine parents.

Despite the Jan. 28 exposure of the hoax, on Feb. 3 the Associated Press disseminated and the Newsran a story by Shimali Senanayake, which featured a photo of Baby 81's mother, and incorrectly asserted "She is one of several women who claim the baby. A judge ordered a DNA test in the custody fight." To the contrary, although the hospital insisted on DNA evidence before releasing the baby, there was no "custody fight" because nobody other than the true parents had claimed custody.

Last Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, resigned under pressure, because of evidence that he has been sexually harassing U.N. employees. The News(Feb. 21) covered the story, while the Postignored it.

As detailed in Michelle Malkin's Feb. 17 column in the News,ABC's 20/20has aired a report showing that U.N. officials in the Congo and the Central African Republic have been running an international pedophile ring. These allegations are consistent with numerous reports of sex crimes by U.N. employees perpetrated against girls and women in East Timor, Cambodia and Kosovo.

The U.N.'s own Office of Internal Oversight Services confirmed the existence of "sexual abuse" in the Congo, as briefly reported by the Newslast Jan. 8.

The Postcontinues to fail to print anything about the U.N. sexual abuse story. The closest the Posthas gotten to letting readers know that the scandal even exists was a Dec. 11, 2004, editorial which euphemistically referred to "Reports of U.N. peacekeepers harassing children" - a rather bland way to describe an international pedophile and rape conspiracy.

As I argued in a pair of columns last year (May 8 and Dec. 4), the news sections of both Denver dailies were highly derelict for failing to inform readers adequately about the immense bribery scandal in the U.N.'s Oil for Food Program. Early this month, the program's head, Benon Sevan, was forced to resign, based on extensive evidence of his personal corruption. The Newsand the Postboth covered the resignation adequately, using AP articles.

Here's a suggestion for the beleaguered public relations office at the University of Colorado: change the names of the "CU football program," the "CU Foundation" and the "CU Department of Ethnic Studies." Just combine the three entities into the new "Colorado United Nations Foundation for Physical and Racial Development." Then the Postwill suppress almost all the bad news about you, while repeatedly hectoring readers about how much more money you need from the taxpayers.

On Wednesday, the Newsran an AP article reporting that Matthew Barakat, who is accused of plotting the assassination of President Bush, "was valedictorian at a private high school in nearby Alexandria, Va." The Post'sKnight-Ridder story was better, noting that the school was Islamic Saudi Academy. But the best coverage came from The Jawa Report weblog ( mypetjawa.mu.nu ), which compiled a variety of media reports to show that the school is funded by the Saudi Embassy, and inculcates violence against non-Muslims.  

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