What if the major newswires ran a headline that attributed, as a direct quote from the Pope, clear evidence he was converting to Islam?
Would you still believe the Pope was Catholic or would you believe what the Associated Press or Agence France-Presse were telling you?
If you were the editor of a major world news outlet, would you think of having to fact check the news wire and ring the Vatican for confirmation?
As was first brought to my attention late on Saturday night (16th May) there is a huge problem with the breathless headlines all around the English speaking world that Pope Francis had called Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace”.
This is what was reported after the Pope met Abbas. Did the Pope really call Abu Mazen, the “democratically elected”, unrepentant terrorist now firmly within the 11th year of his 4 year term of office running the Palestinian Authority an “angel of peace”?
You have to wonder why people didn’t at least see a problem with this. Deebo produced a great series of posters outlining his major terrorist triumphs. All the English headlines and all the stories drew on three wire service reports:
AFP: They exchanged gifts with the pope giving Abbas a medal with a figure of the angel of peace “which destroys the evil spirit of war”. “I thought of you because you are an angel of peace,” he told Abbas.
AP: Pope Francis praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a meeting Saturday at the Vatican that underscored the Holy See’s warm relations with the Palestinians. Francis made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the “angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.” Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since “you are an angel of peace.” During his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Francis called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.
Reuters: In a statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Abbas had spoken about the peace process with Israel and had expressed the hope that direct contacts between Israel and the Palestinians could resume soon.
Pope Francis gave Abbas a medallion representing an angel of peace, telling the Palestinian leader he thought of him “as an angel of peace.”
The Italian sources, including those closest to the Vatican have a completely different reading:
He did utter the words “angel of peace,” and he suggested that Abbas could or might be one. In the context of the pope’s complete statement about the meeting, the implication was that Abbas could be an angel of peace if he resumed direct negotiations with Israel.
Why did Francis say the words “angel of peace” at all? Because he was making a gift to Abbas of a medallion engraved with an image of the Angel of Peace. The Vatican Insider feature of Italy’s La Stampa has this summary in its English version:
“As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented 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.” Pope Francis had called Abu Mazen a “man of peace” when he visited Bethlehem in May 2014, just as he called the then Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, a “man of peace” during his subsequent visit to Jerusalem.”
So what we have from the AP and AFP is not just a mis-translation, it’s the complete failure to accurately communicate the Pope’s words and the context of them. They have ascribed a completely different meaning to this encounter than that which Italian (and at least one Spanish) sources report.
It’s even worse: by saying to Abbas he could one day be an Angel of Peace, The Pope is implying Abbas is not presently bringing peace to anywhere.
Of course the Pope believes Abbas could one day be an Angel of Peace! It’s basic Catholic doctrine that everyone can be redeemed through their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Saying that Abu Mazen ONE DAY may be an angel or man of peace is like the Catholic Pope saying that one day Abbas could convert to Christianity. It is possible. But it doesn’t mean he’s an Angel of Peace today.
Ask yourself, which is more likely: the Pope makes a statement firmly in line with a millennium of Catholic doctrine, or he makes a statement making himself look totally ignorant of the background of the man opposite him?
The whole point of a news wire is to do basic reporting of facts and events. To report quotes and their context accurately and without distortion, even if made in a different language.
To any editor in the whole world: how can you trust the AP or AFP to report any story with an Israel connection when they are not even capable of accurately quoting the Pope? You should not run any story by these agencies until you have had your own fact checker ring up the Vatican and confirm the facts.
Which leads me to wonder why any reputable news publisher pays for AP or AFP reports on Israel.
Updated 17 May 15:07: Included a quote from the Reuters version of the story as used by the New York Times.[divider]
Here are some earlier failures to cast your mind back to: