The second part of my coverage of this topic will be published next week.
Terry Prone runs the profitable media consultancy the Communications Clinic, with many high-profile clients. Prone wrote to French TV journalist Saskia Weber, on behalf of her clients the Bon Secours Sisters who ran the Tuam home, explicitly denying that any children were buried there, and pouring scorn on the work of the local historian, Catherine Corless.
A year earlier, Sr Marie Ryan, leader of the Bon Secours in Ireland wrote to the relative of a child who died at the home saying that there was 'a very good possibility that his remains were buried at the small cemetery located at the back of the home that was operated as a general grave'. Terry Prone has refused to return calls from the podcast seeking an explanation of this, or to claify whether she contacted other journalists to discourage coverage of the story, or encourage stories that were hostile to Catherine Corless.
Rosita Boland wrote an article for the Irish Times under the title Tuam mother and baby home: the trouble with the septic tank story that appears to refute the original story, although in fact a close reading reveals that it largely focusses on semantic quibbles. Catherine Corless' daughter Adrienne Corless wrote a long blog post taking issue with Bloand's article. The Irish Times published a long letter by Boland defending her coverage.
Eamon Fingleton wrote a piece for the well-known Forbes Magazine under the title Why That Story About Irish Babies "Dumped In A Septic Tank" Is A Hoax in which he explicitly accused unnamed elements of the press of promoting a hoax story, and repeated the allegation a week later. I had an email exchange with Fingleton, in which he agreed, and later declined to do an interview, so I sent him these written questions:
- Around the time you were writing the Forbes story, did you have any contact with Terry Prone? Or her firm The Communications Clinic? Or any other spokespeople for the Bon Secours nuns?
- In 2014, Terry Prone claimed that the Bon Secours nuns had positive knowledge that there was “no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried” on the grounds of the home. Was this ever claim made to you by anybody in relation to your article?
- Terry Prone, in the same letter, implied that Catherine Corless was not a ‘reputable’ historian. Was this claim, or any other claim impugning her character or her work, made to you by anyone in relation to the article?
- In your article, you said “[The media] have to show that the sewage tank was still being use for its original purpose at the time the bodies were placed in it.” Why should they have to show that? Was there any material point resting on that issue? Did any substantial outlet make that claim?
- Your article ended “The image of nuns consciously dumping babies in a septic tank is one of the most irresponsible press hoaxes of modern times”. The term ‘hoax’ implies that there was conscious deception. What evidence did you have of this?
- Do you now accept that the 2014 story, that children’s bodies were dumped in a disused sewerage facility was substantially true?
He replied in the following terms:
- My sources. As a matter of principle, journalists in free nations do not expect to have to reveal their sources (and in many cases they have gone to jail rather than do so). That said, you and other readers have a right to expect me to be accurate in my facts and fair in my comments. If you have any complaint on either score, please feel free to air it -- but I would ask that you include links to what I wrote so your audience can judge for itself whether my commentaries fell short.
- How the Tuam story was generally reported. Reporters are supposed to be in the business of telling the truth. Thus in a controversy of this sort, they have an obligation to recount any facts and expert assessments with a significant bearing on a controversy. If experts believed that the nuns were probably unaware of the original purpose of the facility, any reporter who believes he is in the business of the truth should have reported that point.
- The historian. I agree that Ms. Pr one was remiss if indeed (I take your word for it) she suggested that the historian was not "reputable."