Irish Residents, Officials Incensed by NYT Framing of Berkeley Tragedy

The wrong time, and place, for criticism of Ireland's U.S. work-visa program.

The only thing worse than stepping into a zone of perceived news reporting egregiousness is to have subsequent repair efforts greeted with equal amounts of anger. That is the case today with regards to The New York Times, Ireland’s junior minister for new communities, culture and equality, and a June 17 article bylined to a trio of reporters.

It’s the second paragraph that has offended. The passage frames the horrific collapse and deaths of visiting Irish students in Berkeley to the suggestion that the underlying program is an “embarrassment:”

But the work-visa program that allowed for the exchanges has in recent years become not just a source of aspiration, but also 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.

Times public editor Margaret Sullivan acknowledges this afternoon that her office was flooded with “hundreds” of complaints about the “embarrassment” language. And that a colleague sees, in hindsight, the error of the paper’s ways:

By morning, editors and reporters were well aware of the storm. I talked to the national editor, Alison Mitchell, whose staff wrote and edited the story. She told me that she regrets that readers believe The Times set out to blame the victims, which was never the intention.

If she had the chance to edit it now, she said, she would have removed some key passages from the story, including the one mentioned above. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have had that second paragraph,” she said. The Times will be looking into the structural problems of the building; some readers pointed out to me a Los Angeles Times story that did that.

Sullivan includes the full statement of apology from vice president of corporate communications Eileen Murphy. (It’s worth noting that Minister Ó Ríordáin’s second tweet above is not a reference to Sullivan’s thoughtful article, but rather the paper’s immediate, initial damage control.)