Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Use Of Words To Express Sensitivity

A balcony collapses and throws a dozen young people to the ground four stories below, a fall to their death.

Truly a tragedy, this horrific accident that took the lives of six Irish students, young people of 21 years, their lives just beginning. How is such a thing to be spoken of? What words can be used by a journalist to describe an incident that has touched the hearts of so many?

If you are the New York Times, you look at the pictures of that collapsed balcony hanging from the facade and you think of the J-1 visa program that brought those poor people to their death in a foreign land.

Five of the dead were in San Francisco thanks to the special visa that allows foreign students to work in America without having to go through all the red tape and paperwork required of those who wish to settle more permanently. They come for a summer to experience a little of adult life, on their own, and then go home to finish up schooling or embark on a career.

It sounds like a grand opportunity, but if you are the New York Times, you don't do sunshine and happiness. You probe the dark underbelly of the J-1 program. You look at the bits of balcony dangling and you think about the many complaints lodged by property owners who rented to J-1 students and found their flats wrecked.

Sure that balcony could represent the same kind of destruction, right? There's a powerful link if you just focus on the right area.

The once-proud newspaper is today backtracking on a story that ran earlier. Writers Adam Nagourney, Mitch Smith and Quentin Hardy managed to demonstrate a remarkable lack of compassion and a very poor choice of words with their piece that has come under fire. The authors opened their article with an attack on the J-1 program, describing the visa users as a "source of embarrassment for Ireland" because the Irish students misbehave so terribly and drink all the time and destroy private property and make a nuisance of themselves altogether.

What could be more sensitive to the hearts of those whose children died? Those six deaths touched on a great many people. The Dail, Ireland's version of Congress or Commons, has suspended its session out of respect for the dead.

So, thanks a million, Grey Lady, for being so very sensitive.

Because when tragedy strikes, we all like to hear about other young adults who, in one instance, were an embarrassment. The word play in the article certainly had that certain magical quality that only can be created by the sparkle of well-crafted prose. Well done indeed.

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