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Gutter journalism an insult to victims of Berkeley tragedy

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'If the ‘New York Times’ wants to do an exposé of the drunken debauchery of degenerate J1 students, and the anarchy and misery they cause, it is free to do so. But its attempt to shoehorn that report into a totally unrelated account of six students’ tragic deaths deserves to be called out'

'If the ‘New York Times’ wants to do an exposé of the drunken debauchery of degenerate J1 students, and the anarchy and misery they cause, it is free to do so. But its attempt to shoehorn that report into a totally unrelated account of six students’ tragic deaths deserves to be called out'

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'If the ‘New York Times’ wants to do an exposé of the drunken debauchery of degenerate J1 students, and the anarchy and misery they cause, it is free to do so. But its attempt to shoehorn that report into a totally unrelated account of six students’ tragic deaths deserves to be called out'

The 'New York Times' coverage of the Berkeley tragedy has provoked an outraged response, with Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Riordáin, among many others, labelling it "a disgrace".

The article described the J1 programme as "a source of embarrassment for Ireland" because it had been "marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara".

Mourners are leaving flowers, cards and other mementos at a makeshift memorial close to the apartment in Berkeley where six Irish students lost their lives yesterday morning.

In an effort to substantiate these claims, the authors resurrected a 2014 column in an Irish American newspaper which condemned "the callous destruction" of one rental property in San Francisco by "loaded Irish students" who had "abandoned the place without a word of apology".

The 'New York Times' article, which appeared less than 24 hours after the appalling accident that left six students dead and seven seriously injured, was gutter journalism - reporting as a word association game in which any article with an Irish subject must include references to drunken chaos. The implication was clear. Just as one set of Irish students had destroyed a house in San Francisco last year, the students on the balcony in Berkeley had in some way contributed to the accident.

This may come as news to the editors of the 'New York Times', but drinking, or being young and Irish, does not cause wooden joists supporting a balcony to rot.

Mourners are leaving flowers, cards and other mementos at a makeshift memorial close to the apartment in Berkeley where six Irish students lost their lives yesterday morning.

But why let that trifling detail get in the way of an opportunity to regale readers with negative stereotypes about drunken Paddies gone wild?

Compare the coverage in the 'New York Times' with a piece that appeared in the 'Los Angeles Times', which interviewed a resident of the apartment complex in Berkeley, who described the students as "the sweetest people in the world" and "so nice".

The 'Los Angeles Times' was also clear that, "this balcony - built under current codes - should easily be able to support 13 people". So, the number of people on the balcony was not a contributing factor.

If the 'New York Times' was more interested in investigating potential breaches of building regulations, instead of casting aspersions on the characters of innocent Irish students, perhaps it would have discovered that too.

Instead, it inexplicably chose to focus on one small group of Irish students, out of more than 150,000 who have used a J1 visa over the past 50 years, who brought the programme into disrepute.

In fact, the article reads as if someone did a Google search of "Irish students" and "J1" and just decided to include anything they found, no matter how unrelated to the events in Berkeley or how much pain it would cause family and friends of the dead and the maimed.

The outrage over the article is not a case of being overly sensitive to critical coverage of Ireland from abroad.

It stems from the reputations of these young people being treated with such casual disdain when they died in such appalling circumstances.

If the 'New York Times' wants to do an exposé of the drunken debauchery of degenerate J1 students, and the anarchy and misery they cause, it is free to do so. But its attempt to shoehorn that report into a totally unrelated account of six students' tragic deaths deserves to be called out.

A mealy-mouthed apology, made late yesterday afternoon, did little to help, as it sought to defend the inclusion of extraneous reports of vandalism as providing some sort of essential context about J1 students.

Also suggesting the apology was less than genuine was the fact that while the paper agreed "some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive" it opted not to change that language and left the article unedited on its website.

The fact that the 'New York Times' is supposed to be a venerable paper of record, which holds itself to high editorial standards, also makes the crass focus of the piece even harder to understand.

Regrettably, some newspapers closer to home also treated the deaths of these students in a less than sensitive fashion.

The 'Irish Examiner' printed an aerial shot of the scene of the accident on its front page in which body bags were discernible, while the 'Irish Daily Star' opted for a close-up image of body bags lying on a footpath.

Those close to the young people who lost their lives in Berkeley are enduring the worst time of their lives. Due to the popularity of the J1 scheme, and its ubiquity among students, the tragedy has also reverberated around the country, where there is an almost palpable sense of shock and grief.

The media has a duty to report what happened, but to do so in a sensitive and respectful fashion without resorting to lazy stereotypes, insulting inferences or sensational images.

Irish Independent


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