28 November 2012

Publish and be damned

I wrote to the Irish Times about discrepancies in its reporting on the death of Savita Halappanavar; my letter's not been published, which is fair enough, so I thought I might as well post what I wrote, as I think it's probably worth giving a short and simple list of serious discrepancies:
Kitty Holland’s 24 November article,  ‘Are you okay… I think we are losing her’, seems to invite more questions than it answers about the tragic death of  Savita Halappanavar. 
Ms Holland says the hospital started Ms Halappanavar on antibiotics on Tuesday 23 October, but in an interview on the Irish Times website, Praveen Halappanavar tells Ms Holland that this happened on Sunday 21 October. 
Ms Holland says it was on Thursday 25 October that the hospital informed Mr Halappanavar that his wife had contracted e.coli ESBL, but in the website interview, Mr Halappanavar says he was told this on the morning of Friday 26 October. 
Ms Holland says that on Saturday 27 October the hospital considered putting Ms Halappanavar on dialysis, but in the website interview, Mr Halappanavar said that the hospital had already attempted this on Friday 26 October. 
RTE has published and broadcast a distinctly different timeline, purporting to come from Galway University Hospital, claiming that the hospital started Ms Halappanavar on antibiotics on Monday 22 October. RTE has also reported that Ms Halappanavar’s miscarriage took place spontaneously in theatre on Tuesday 23 October, rather than in the early afternoon of Wednesday 24 October, as reported in the Irish Times
I doubt I am alone in being confused by this affair, where even the most basic facts seem in dispute. 
Yours, etc,
I've seen people on Twitter asking when we stopped believing victims, and saying that they're tired of people claiming that the facts of what happened are unknown, but surely one thing the above shows is that the facts are most definitely in dispute.

On 'Coleman at Large' this evening, Kitty Holland admitted to Marc Coleman that there were problems with Praveen's account of things, and that there were differences between what he'd said when she'd originally interviewed him over the phone in India and then when she interviewed him again in Galway:
"All one can surmise is that his recollection of events -- the actual timeline and days -- may be a little muddled... we only have Praveen and his solicitor's take on what was in or not in the notes -- we're relying all the time on their take on what happened... Oh, I'm not satisfied of anything. I'm satisfied of what he told me, but I await as much as anyone else the inquiry and the findings. I can't tell for certain -- who knows what will come out in that inquiry? They may come back and say she came in with a disease she caught from something outside the hospital before she even arrived in, and there was no request for termination..."
Praveen has contradicted himself and changed his story several times, and the sequence of events as he describes them doesn't tally with that which purports to come from the hospital, and which you'd think the hospital ought to be able to substantiate.

That there are discrepancies in Praveen's account shouldn't surprise us, of course, given that the man spent a week watching his wife suffer and die -- distress, exhaustion, and trauma can lead to serious confusion, as horrible events all blur together.

But if the core structural facts are unclear, what credence should we place -- at the moment -- on any other details or claims? This is why I keep saying we have to wait, and is one of the reasons why I find the relentless linking of Savita's death to Ireland's law on abortion absolutely disgraceful. Doing this in the absence of facts and on the basis of a confused and contradictory narrative is at best lazily emotive, and at worst cynical and opportunistic.

There's also the fact that we have historically taken the line here of innocence till proven guilty; we don't believe victims straight off, and never have done. After speaking to victims -- and doing so sympathetically but not uncritically -- we always listen to the accused to find out their side of the story. 

And that, of course, has not been told.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Greg. Succinctly put together. I'm not surprised the Times didn't post it - the caravan has moved on and only sensational news, in keeping with the agenda, will now be published. It's pretty much the same with all outlets.

This will not stop the battle over abortion continuing in Ireland. What is of concern - or should be - is that the truth of what actually happened to Mrs Halappanavar will be obscured. That reality will be inconvenient for one side or the other and the Irish people may find themselves pushed down a particular road without having all the real facts. And 'cynical and opportunist' have ever been the characteristics of politicians and those with an agenda, I fear.

I think you are performing an important service. Keep at it - but be prepared to have your motives, powers of analysis, inbuilt biases, background, personal environment, upbringing and parentage all called into question!

Ruari McCallion

Family and Media Association said...

I think this -- from Kitty Holland on Coleman -- may also be significant "I mean, he said to me, at one point, that she was given paracetamol and not antibiotics, at one point in the interview, as well, and not given antibiotics at any point, so I mean, but, one assumes she was given antibiotics when she was that ill". Question: Why was the alleged inconsistency displayed in Praveen's original interview not properly represented in Holland's original reports? http://www.fma.ie/faith_in_media/2012/11/faithinmedia-29-11-2012.html

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

That's a fair point; I didn't bother transcribing that but now wonder if I made a mistake in omitting it.

It's in the audio interview on the Irish Times site that Praveen says Savita was given paracetamol. Seemingly this happened on Tuesday night, when she was seriously ill. However, he doesn't say in that interview that she wasn't given antibiotics; rather, he says that she was started on them when she was taken in on Sunday.

So did Holland miss his early point that she was started on antibiotics on Sunday and assume he'd meant antibiotics when he said paracetamol? Or was there another interview she did with him?

If this goes to court at any stage, the poor man will be torn to pieces; any half-competent barrister should be able to show that he's changed his story so often that his testimony would be established as grievously flawed. Kitty Holland really hasn't done him any favours.