Monday, December 19, 2005

Baby 81, or 'The Great Tsunami Fraud'

In line with the media's current "Tsunami: one year on" theme, last Sunday's Age ran an update on Baby 81, the little survivor allegedly fought over by nine Sri Lankan couples. I say 'allegedly' because most of his story - including the claim about the nine couples and even the tag "Baby 81" - was quickly exposed as a media hoax, set out in these exposes at National Business Review, Lanka Business Online and None of these was enough to quell the media frenzy over baby Abilash, which culminated in his appearance on Good Morning America and an audience with US senators.

While noting that "some questioned the veracity of the reporting", the Age article essentially recycled the Baby 81 story in its original fabricated glory. Whether it squeezed through on its feel-good value or simple lack of research, it's not a victory for journalistic integrity or professionalism. Not that I'm surprised, given the near-daily grammatical or factual errors that pepper both of Melbourne's broadsheet papers. Other gems that spring to mind are the Age edition containing two reports quoting different figures for the Lancet's estimate of post-invasion Iraqi deaths (10,000 and 100,000 respectively, if memory serves), and the Australian report confusing the ICJ and the ICC. Perhaps I'll start a 'mainstream media bloopers' column on this blog...


Jeremy said...

Are you sure the lancet thing was a blooper? Search for an old article on Slate about that data if you feel like, it had a lengthy discussion about the figure. The figure was derived statistically and 100,000, iirc, was one edge of the 95% confidence interval (on the bell curve). Something like 10,000 was the other end.

PS. You got a bunch of redundant line breaks at the start of the post.

D_guide said...


Hope you are not some relative of BRUCE LEE, who was ultimately poisoned to death. LOL. I would like to chat with you some day on yahoo or msn. I am umesh derebai from mumbai, india. Well i found that you a great journalist type of blogger. My id at yahoo is or you can visit me in blog or chat in msn at derebail2006

John Lee said...

hi Jeremy,

I assume you're referring to this piece by Fred Kaplan. The Lancet survey found within a 95% confidence interval that the number of Iraqi civilian deaths attributable to the war was between 8000 and 194,000. The 100,000 figure was simply the approx midpoint of this range, hence it was criticised as a statement of fact about the Iraq war's human cost (alongside other objections to the survey's methodology).

Both the Age articles were quoting this median figure, iirc. So the journo who said 10,000 (I think it was the Washington correspondent) was the duffer, or rather the sloppy researcher/editor.

Yeah, the linebreak thing gives me headaches. Either the text formatting or the picture is at fault (notice I've deleted the original pic and posted a smaller version). It seems to only happen when I post in IE, so it's firefox from now on.

John Lee said...

hi D_guide,

Thanks for the compliments. First time I've received the title "journalist" ;)

I'm no relation of Bruce - Lee is a common name in China - though I've taken up his martial arts style (Wing Chun). Not all the theories surrounding his death involve poison - brief synopsis here.

Your blog looks off to a good start, I'll be sure to drop by.