NEWS’ VIEW: Remembering the tailgate tragedy

The collision at the Yale Bowl last Saturday shocked us all. It turned the normally festive atmosphere of The Game into one of grief and confusion.

In the hours immediately after the tragedy, we wanted facts to comfort us. Information might answer the question we couldn’t escape: Why?

What we found, first in the New Haven Register, and then in the national press, was an overblown — if compelling — sensational narrative of drunkenness and road rage at a prestigious university. That story had repercussions; especially in the local media, it turned a tragedy into a story of drunkenness and privilege. It prevented us from confronting the facts as they appeared.

Initial reports of the accident in Lot D of the Yale Bowl, followed by Yale’s announcement at halftime that a woman had died, made all of us ask why and how the accident had occurred. A newspaper’s job is to cobble together facts, find the story to answer that question as best it can. Instead, the Register looked for the story that made sense.

It found that narrative. Early versions of the Register’s story related one eyewitness’s speculation that the crash was the result of “road rage.” At 5:15 p.m., hours after the accident, the Register tweeted, “Uhaul that killed woman was full of kegs…..Driver may have accelerated because women walking too slow.” Most of those details were accurate, and any story of tragedy at a Harvard-Yale event with free-flowing alcohol excites readers.

But a newspaper’s responsibility is to tell the truth — and to admit when it doesn’t know exactly what the truth is. The Register corrected its mistake in the third version of the story. But the Register and others rushed to assign blame. They did not adequately note that the pure facts were hard to digest. Drunken recklessness at an event many seem to frown upon is easy to explain.

The Register, national audiences and even Yale students decided last week that the important story was not the death of a woman but the alcohol in the trunk of Sig Ep’s U-Haul and speculation about the driver’s malicious intentions. That narrative hurt the driver of the truck, who was sober and as far as we know did nothing illegal. It also cast Yale students as arrogant drunks.

So we rushed to defend Brendan Ross ’13, a friend. And we rushed to defend ourselves against the public image of our tailgate as a cesspool of debauchery. In doing so, we might have lost sight of what actually happened at the Bowl.

There is no right way to deal with tragedy. It is natural to look for answers and try to make sense of what happened, and it is natural to think first about ourselves and the people close to us. But in our quest to understand over the past week, we may have lost track of the facts behind this story.

Here is what we do know, and what no story can change: Nancy Barry of Salem, Mass. died last Saturday. She was unaffiliated with Yale. She was a fashion designer and a devoted aunt. She planned to go shopping with her grandmother for fabric the day after The Game. She is survived by her mother, Paula Barry, two nephews and an extensive family.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “So we rushed to defend Brendan Ross ’13, a friend. And we rushed to defend ourselves against the public image of our tailgate as a cesspool of debauchery. In doing so, we might have lost sight of what actually happened at the Bowl.”

    Your reporting was balanced. The description of the other reporting mentioned in this article is part of an unsavory trend in journalism over the last 40 years. Journalistic integrity has been diluted. if not abandoned.

    Keep exhibiting the professionalism you have thus far exhibited, even in the soul-searching self-scrutiny of this piece.

  • River_Tam

    > There is no right way to deal with tragedy.

    If there are wrong ways (and there are – you suggest yourself that the national media engaged in some of them), then there are right ways.

    I daresay the YDN dealt with it the right way.

  • MsMoneypenny

    The YDN had best coverage of the accident and aftermath. Well done. My sympathy goes out to all.

  • claypoint2

    For once, I second theantiyale’s and River_Tam’s comments.