New York Times apologises over Irish student story

2015-06-18 13:36
The New York Times.

The New York Times. (Shutterstock)

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New York - The New York Times apologised on Wednesday for a report about a California balcony collapse that killed six Irish students that provoked a furious international backlash.

The article discussed on Tuesday's tragedy and took a critical look at the J-1 visa program that allows thousands of young people from Ireland to work in the US.

Five Irish citizens and an Irish-American woman, all aged 21 and 22, died after a fourth-floor apartment balcony collapsed in Berkeley, close to the University of California campus.

The Times called the visa program "not just a source of aspiration, but a source of embarrassment for Ireland, marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara."

'Deep offence' caused

But, as Ireland was plunged into mourning by the disaster, the tone of The New York Times report provoked anger and cries of insensitivity from readers and Irish officials.

Ireland's ambassador to Washington, Anne Anderson, wrote to the Times saying it had "caused deep offence" for implying that "the behaviour of the students was in some way a factor in the collapse."

"It is quite simply wrong to say that the J1 visa program is 'a source of embarrassment for Ireland,'" she said.

"At this time of searing grief, the messages of condolence and offers of support which are flooding in to the Embassy and our Consulates are balm to the soul. They reflect far more accurately the feelings of the American people than does your article."

Reaction 'understandable'

Eileen Murphy, The New York Times Vice President for Corporate Communications, apologised over the story in a statement to the Irish Examiner.

"We understand and agree that some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive, particularly in such close proximity to this tragedy," the Examiner reported Murphy as saying.

"It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologise if the piece left that impression."

Margaret Sullivan, public editor at the Times, also wrote a personal column apologising for the report.

"I can say not only that I believe many of the complaints were valid, but also that I'm very sorry for the pain the story caused," Sullivan wrote on the newspaper's website.

"The thrust of the story was insensitive, and the reaction to it understandable."

Sullivan noted that, as public editor, she does not speak for the newsroom or the newspaper itself.

"An examination of the building's structure, rather than the behaviour of young people in the J-1 program, would have been a more appropriate focus for a second-day story," she wrote.

Read more on:    new york times  |  ireland  |  us
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