What else should I write
I don’t have the right
What else should I be
– Nirvana, “All Apologies”
So the New York Times has apologised for a story insulting six dead young Irish people, insinuating that they and thousands of other young Irish people are nothing more than drunken vandals and troublemakers.
But judging by the apology, they don’t actually realise what they did wrong.
According to NYT spokesperson Eileen Murphy, they “understand”.
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 problem for Murphy is that it’s not that the “language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive” – that is exactly what it was.
No interpretation necessary.
After all, it juxtaposes six recently-deceased young people with a “national embarrassment” to Ireland – a phenomenon for which no concrete evidence is offered, apart from one column from 2014, a quick perusal of a Facebook group, and a few complaints from neighbours.
This, apparently, is how journalism is conducted at one of America’s most prestigious newspapers.
The three reporters whose byeline is on the story aren’t exactly novices either. Adam Nagourney is national political reporter, while Quentin Hardy is an award-winning journalist and deputy technology editor.
Somehow between them and their superiors, they got it wrong.
But they still don’t even know how wrong.
“…there was a more sensitive way to tell the story…” Nagourney told NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan.
He’s right – and in this case, it was by not telling it at all.
The journalistic instincts of Nagourney and his colleagues were actually right – the story needed to be “moved on”, context needed to be given, explanations sought.
But there is nothing in the J1 visa program or the behaviour of Irish students that contributed to their deaths.
The J1 issue might even be worthy of a story on its own merits, but not here, not now, and certainly not in this way.
What might have been relevant would have been to go through building regulations, landlords cramming students and other migrant workers into sub-par accommodation, and the exploitation of these young people by unscrupulous business owners.
But the innate conservative nature of the New York Times does not lend itself to that kind of scrutiny – as seen on countless occasions, it is the establishment’s nodding donkey.
In short, the New York Times story was as hurtful as it was unavoidable.
Its instinct is always to apportion blame to the weak.
The wounds to Ireland’s pride will heal.
The families, in time, will forget, the story hopefully receding and replaced by happier memories of the brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours that are no longer with us.
But the New York Times will continue to tug its forelock to the powerful, because that is its nature.
And no apology in the world will change it.