New York Times reporting of Berkeley Tragedy

Written by Tara Mulvany

There’s very little anyone can say that can add to the outpouring of grief over the young Irish lives that were lost in the Berkeley balcony tragedy. Very little, except the sincerest and most heartfelt sympathies to their bereaved families and friends.

That should have been where the New York Times left it too. But instead, in an attempt to create a ‘second day’ story, the newspaper published an article that reverted to negative cultural stereotypes by branding the J1 visa programme (and by inference the students who partake in it) as ‘a source of embarrassment to Ireland.’ The implication being that the young Irish people who have lost their lives were in some way to blame for the tragedy.

As topics for second day stories go was it not enough that six young lives were lost, that families are devastated and that a nation mourns?  Were the images and reports of the deep sadness and shock felt by fellow J1 students not enough? Or what about reporting on the impending investigation into how the balcony collapsed or the reports published by other newspapers that the construction firm behind the Berkeley apartment block has already had to settle law suits over ‘water penetration’ problems on balconies in other complexes.

The VP of Corporate Communications at the NY Times has admitted that some of the language used in the article could be interpreted as ‘insensitive.’ But the newspaper has refused to print a retraction or apology.

In a nutshell, the article was lazy and not worthy of a newspaper with a worldwide reputation for quality, investigative journalism. Under normal circumstances laziness can be forgiven. But these aren’t normal circumstances.

The offence caused to families and friends by the misrepresentation of their lost loved ones is deeply offensive and the only source of embarrassment in this tragic case.

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