NY Times at center of international uproar over racist characterization of Irish
The editors at the New York Times let slip by them a negative stereotype the Irish as violent drunkards in writing about the horrible deaths in Berkeley of Irish students, and the government and people of Ireland have taken grave offense. Michael Walsh of PJ Media noted the brouhaha and offered the self-answering thought experiment of imagining if a similar stereotyping had taken place about blacks or Jews. Here are the first two paragraphs of the Times piece (written by no fewer than three reporters: Adam Nagourney, Mitch Smith, and Quentin Hardy):
They come by the thousands — Irish students on work visas, many flocking to the West Coast to work in summer jobs by day and to enjoy the often raucous life in a college town at night. It was, for many, a rite of passage, one last summer to enjoy travel abroad before beginning a career.
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.
The headline of the piece, “Deaths of Irish Students in Berkeley Balcony Collapse Cast Pall on Program,” gets to the heart of what seems to be the Times’s take: we are too damn many of these drunken Irish that we let into our country.
The nation of Ireland has been transfixed by the tragedy in Berkeley, in mourning for its youngsters whose lives have been cut short by a structural deficiency as they sought to celebrate their youth far from home. The unkind words from the Times in the wake of this tragedy caused serious reactions. As Walsh noted, the former president of Ireland, Mary McAlesse wrote a letter of protest to the paper that was published in the Irish Times:
Today in Ireland we are hanging our heads in shock and sorrow at the needless deaths of six of our brightest and best young adults and the serious injuries to others.
Today the New York Times should be hanging its head in shame at how outrageously and without the remotest evidence it has rushed to judgment on those deaths.
I was a J-1 visa student in California over forty years ago.
Tens of thousands of Irish J-1 students have spent happy summers there over the years since.
By far the vast majority have been a credit to Ireland and only the very tiniest minority have not.
Yet within hours of the most appalling tragedy in the history of the J-1 visa program, when the one salient fact to speak for itself is the ludicrous collapse of a fourth floor balcony in a relatively new building, New York Times journalists reached for the lazy tabloid stereotype and heaped deliberate injustice on top of the most awful grief.
Shame on you. Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, 1997-2011; J-1 visa student in San Francisco summer of 1971
The Times, caught in the act, apologized, using corporate spokeswoman (and not an editor) Eileen Murphy (full disclosure: Eileen was once my student at Harvard Business School):
Spokesperson for the NY Times, Eileen Murphy, said that the article in question was “intended to explain in greater detail why these young Irish students were in the US”.
“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,” Murphy continued.
“It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologize if the piece left that impression. We will continue to cover this story and report on the young people who lost their lives.”
The apology was not accepted and an Irish government cabinet member protested:
Minister for Equality, Ó Ríordáin, however, has shown further anger at the paper’s apology attempts, branding it “offensive” and stating that “It’s clearly futile appealing to your better nature.”
America’s liberal elites have long harbored prejudice toward the Irish. This goes back to the waves of Irish immigration in the potato famine, and is probably related to the British disdain for their colonial subjects in Ireland. It may also be related to anti-Catholic prejudice. Whatever the origin, it is quite telling that nobody in the Times’s vaunted editorial staff questioned the use of negative stereotyping about Irish in the wake of a horrible incident that cost the lives of innocent youngsters.
Further full disclosure: I am one quarter Irish, but I suspect that even without that ethnic tie I would find this sort of bigotry on the part of those who hold themselves paragons of diversity advocacy as disgustingly hypocritical.