Irresponsible Journalism Impacts on Wexford Staff

Users of social media over the last few days or listeners to news bulletins will have seen or heard a story about a secondary school in Co.Carlow and what they were reported to have said to their female students with regard to their clothing choices for P.E. classes.  

The reporting of this issue, the subsequent abuse and accusations leveled at the teachers, and the general hysterical reaction on social media has been caused by one of the worst examples of mass ‘gutter journalism’ seen in a long time. In fact, it is hard to think off-hand of any recent example where so many so-called reputable outlets have acted so irresponsibly in reporting a story.

The school in question is the Presentation College in Carlow. The Wexford connection here is the Principal Ray Murray, who lives in Co.Wexford.

The story was initially reported by ‘The Carlow Nationalist’. Here is a screenshot of the article written by Elizabeth Lee:

It is hard to fathom how Ms.Lee thought it appropriate to report that the teachers in the school were being made uncomfortable by the female students’ bodies, without evidence to prove such allegations. Instead, she bases the whole story on the opinion of a parent who heard the information second-hand and developed her own conclusions.

This story didn’t receive national coverage until Tuesday when an ‘award-winning’ Newstalk journalist Kacey O’Riordan decided she wanted to keep the story going. 

In tweeting about her ‘story’ (which was just a re-hash of the story reported by the Carlow Nationalist), O’Riordan repeated the same serious claims made by the Carlow Nationalist:

Alarmingly, thousands of people will have seen these allegations reported by numerous seemingly reputable national media outlets, and assumed that the journalists were accurate in what they reported.

No evidence has been presented to support the claim by O’Riordan in the above tweet. Not one media outlet has identified any staff member who is supposed to have made that comment, and not one news report contains any first-hand information from anyone who was present when these comments were supposed to have been made.

It was only after Newstalk ran the story that the pile-on really started.

Here are just some examples from journalists, news outlets, commentators, and politicians.

Naturally enough, the Journal decided to add to the hysteria. Interestingly, the Journal like to ‘fact check’ the work of others, but haven’t applied the same standard to their own reporting of this issue. Here is what their editor had to say:

Journalist David Cochrane wants the Gardaí on the case, and claims the teachers are sexualising the children. A serious allegation which he provides no evidence to support:

Then we had reactions from the politicians who thrive on outrage and moral panic in order to attract votes.

In typical fashion the Labour party jumped on the case, demanding the school apologise. Clearly, like many others, the Labour party don’t seem to bothered as to whether or not this incident actually happened.

Their education spokesman, Aodhan O’Riordan, managed to take some time off from objecting to houses being built in his constituency, to enlighten us with his thoughts on this issue:

People Before Profit, many of whom seem to exist in a state of permanent outrage, also joined the chorus of condemnation, via their Councillor Adrienne Wallace, who appears to believe it is sexist to ask students to obey a dress code that applies equally to girls and boys, and which was agreed to by students and parents when they enrolled:

Meanwhile Mick Barry TD raised the issue in the Dáil with An Taoiseach Michéal Martin. In fairness to Martin, he said that he wouldn’t make any comment on the issue until the facts are known.

Judging by this tweet, The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, apparently would be happy enough if the students wore a Borat mankini to school as long as they feel comfortable. She also appears to reject the whole notion of a school having a uniform policy, and then decides to blame the teachers without any justification:

Roisin Ingle didn’t want to be left out either. Another who apparently has issue with a school asking students to stick to the rules and wants the Gardaí involved:

Former TD Ruth Coppinger, no stranger to bandwagons, gave her thoughts on this issue:

And it wasn’t just the serial outragists, who participated in this online lynching, many otherwise sensible and reasonable people also jumped to conclusions.

Damien Tiernan former RTE correspondent and current radio presenter in Waterford, repeated the claims as fact:

Soccer pundit Richie Sadlier, famous of course for scoring in a UEFA European U-18 third place play-off, decided to use humour to blame the teachers:

Finally, the Chinese Whisper reached New York, with the New York Post reporting that the issue was something to do with the students knees:

Since the media pile on began, the school have responded, via Principal Ray Murray:

The vast majority of schools in Ireland have uniform policies and it is entirely reasonable for a school to insist that their policies are adhered to.
It is entirely unreasonable however for national mainstream media outlets to make baseless, derogatory and damaging allegations against the teaching staff of any school, without evidence to support the claims made.

John McGuirk of Gript, has a very sensitive bullshit detector, and he, along with a few others, saw how weak this whole story was from the outset:

Since then he has managed to get an account of the story from a teacher in the school. As suspected, the teacher explained that the story as reported initially is wrong and misrepresents what the school staff did, and their motivation for doing it:

The staff in this school are easily identified and known in the local community. As a result of the pile-on caused by this type of journalism, the reputations of the teachers have been called into question, their fitness to teach has been called into question, and they have even been described as paedophiles.

Here are some examples of comments made towards the teachers of the school:

It would be very alarming if any of these people who were so quick and willing to cast the first stone, were ever to serve on a jury in a trial of a serious nature. They’d decide the verdict before the oaths.

It will be interesting to see if the school or any of the teaching staff decide to take civil court action against those responsible for such damaging allegations.

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