Monday, May 18, 2015

Media Gets Pope’s Abbas Comments Wrong

If anyone needs further evidence of why the news agencies often can’t be trusted to report accurately on Israel and the Palestinians, and why major news outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC should stop repeating agency copy without verifying it, here is an important example from this weekend.

According to Italian and Spanish news outlets and according to the Vatican’s own website, Pope Francis told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he could be an angel of peace. 

May you be an angel of peace,” he urged Abbas, effectively saying that if Abbas would take the decision to accept one of the peace offers that various Israeli prime ministers have made to him, or at least make a serious counter-offer, he could be an angel of peace. The pope did not say that Abbas – infamous for ordering the Munich Olympic massacre, among many other atrocities – was “an angel of peace.”

And yet the BBC and New York Times were among dozens of prominent news outlets that claimed he did.

The New York Times reports today (Page A11 under the headline: “At Vatican, Abbas Is Praised as ‘Angel of Peace’”):
“Mr. Abbas’s meeting with the pope ended with an exchange of gifts. Presenting Mr. Abbas with a medallion, the pope said it depicted an angel of peace ‘destroying the bad spirit of war.’ It was an appropriate gift, the pope added, since “you are an angel of peace.” 
And here is NBCFox, and, the BBC saying the same thing.

Contrast the headlines in the New York Times with those in the Italian press. 

For example, the headline in the “Vatican Insider” section of Le Stampa is:
Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace
The original Italian is here
Or as Il Giornale reports, the pope met Abbas, “asking him to be ‘an angel of peace.’” 

Read almost any Italian news outlet and they say the same thing: 
“you could be an angel of peace” – “Lei possa essere un angelo della pace.”

As an astute Italian-speaking observer of the Middle East points out, all these English-speaking news media seem to have initially relied on the mistranslations of the world’s three biggest news agencies. 

...Former Middle East reporters such as myself (“The Case of Reuters”) and Matti Friedman (who used to work at AP’s Jerusalem bureau) have long warned about the impartiality of the major news agencies coverage of the Middle East. 

But then too often do reporters and editors at the New York Times, BBC, and elsewhere seem to be happy reporting on what they want to hear, rather than on what was actually said or done, when it comes to the Palestinians and Israel.
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