They say the devil is in the details, but even if it’s an “angel,” many in the media don’t get it right. When Pope Francis met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas on May 16, he urged Abbas to be an “angel of peace.”
Only that’s not what many in the media reported. Instead, outlet after outlet claimed, “In Vatican, Abbas Is Praised as ‘Angel of Peace’,” like the May 16 New York Times.
Take your pick of major outlets that screwed up a major story – Associated Press, CBS, NBC, PBS and more. Tons of journalists were convinced that the pope had called Abbas an angel, instead of urging him to be one. More than a slight difference in a world where many see Abbas as too supportive of Palestinian terrorism.
Reporting was so bad that the Vatican was forced to issue a clarification of the pope’s remarks. The May 18 Times blamed translation for the confusion in a story posted more than an hour before evening news show broadcasts. “It all seemed to boil down to the difference between the verb sei, Italian for ‘you are,’ and sia, which means ‘may you be.’” Or maybe it came down to the difference between what reporters saw and what they wanted to see.
Yet even after the Times and other outlets acknowledged the problem, none of the broadcast networks corrected the record during their evening shows on May 18.
The initial discrepancy was everywhere. CBS’ Rome correspondent Allen Pizzey told “Evening News” viewers on May 17, “Pope Francis hailed Abbas as an angel of peace when they met on Saturday.”
Tons of journalists were convinced that the pope had called Abbas an angel, instead of urging him to be one. More than a slight difference in a world where many see Abbas as too supportive of Palestinian terrorism.
It was the same over at state-sponsored PBS. “NewsHour Weekend” anchor Hari Sreenivasan told viewers almost word-for-word the same story: “Yesterday, the pope met privately with Abbas, calling him ‘an angel of peace.’”
The inaccurate headlines came from around the world:
· “Pope Francis calls Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ‘an angel of peace’ during meeting in Vatican” – Australia’s ABC
· “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’” – BBC.
Better journalism might have kept reporting holy instead of wholly inaccurate. According to VaticanInsider.com, “Francis presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: ‘May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.’”
It’s a terrifying lesson in how journalists can choose the words of a global debate – even when those aren’t the words used by a world leader.