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Mary McAleese: "Utterly offensive" New York Times reached for "lazy tabloid stereotype"

The former president says she herself was a J1 student.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Updated 10.46 am

MARY MCALEESE HAS written to the New York Times over its Berkeley article which the former president says reached for a “lazy tabloid stereotype”.

The Irish Times has published the letter from McAleese who said that the famous newspaper should be ‘hanging its head in shame’.

Referring to herself as a former J-1 student from 1971, McAleese says that the paper “rushed to judgement” on the victims “without the remotest evidence”.

Adding to her letter on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, McAleese said she found the article to be “utterly offensive”.

“It was so insensitive, so insensitive it was dissociated with any sense of human empathy and human feeling and any sense of human grief,” she said.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Flags and flowers at the site of the building collapse. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The two term former president said that she found it “remarkable” that there was “no focus on the obvious context, which was a balcony that should not have collapsed, collapsed.”

Her intervention follows an apology the paper published yesterday for the “pain the story caused”.

The story was first published on Tuesday evening, the same day as the deaths of the six J1 students. It claimed that the visa programme was an “embarrassment for Ireland”.

The piece was titled ‘Deaths of Irish Students in Berkeley Balcony Collapse Cast Pall on Program’ also made reference to two incidents of Irish students damaging properties in California.

The piece was roundly criticised in Ireland and abroad for being insensitive, for suggesting blame on behalf of the dead students and for also being simply inaccurate in some of its claims.

PastedImage-27157 Source: New York Times

It led to the paper publishing a clarification in which it said that it never intended to blame victims of the Berkeley tragedy.

The paper’s public editor Margaret Sullivan also described details about the development of the piece. It also published an email exchange between one of the story’s writers and the paper’s national editor Alison Mitchell.

Mitchell told Sullivan that, in hindsight, the second paragraph which refers to “high-profile episodes involving drunken partying” should not have been included.

The email from one of the reporters on the story, Adam Nagourney, to Mitchell also explained the rationale for the focus on the J1 programme:

This is what we – I – was trying to do, and I mean this as by way of explanation and not excuse. By the time I came on the story, it had already been on our site for five hours or so and we wanted to do something to move it forward. The idea for a second-day story was to focus on the J-1 visa program, and the number of Irish students who, through the program, came here in the summer; I think that was a relatively new thought to us and many of our readers.There are obviously positive aspects to the program, which has been a great resource for thousands of young Irish students, as well as negative ones. Looking back, I had the balance wrong; I put too much emphasis on the negative aspects, and they were too high in my story.

Read: Berkeley Mayor says fatal balcony collapse was ‘more than likely’ caused by water damage >

Read: The New York Times says it never intended to blame victims of the Berkeley tragedy >

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Rónán Duffy

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