Misreporting the Pope

Despite its op-ed page — which often sounds like a transcript from an asylum for victims of Bush Derangement Syndrome — the New York Times remains the nation's newspaper-of-record. If it decides that something is news, so do other papers, and so do the networks; the Times's take on the news also echoes throughout the American media. These facts of journalistic life put a special burden on the Times to get the story right — which, in Istanbul last month, it certainly didn't.

Thus on November 29, front-page, above the fold, the Times trumpeted the "news" that "Pope Backs Turkey's Bid to Join European Union." According to reporters Ian Fisher and Sabrina Tavernise, "Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Turkey…armed with a surprise gesture of good will aimed at blunting Muslim anger toward him: he backed Turkey's long-stalled desire to join the European Union, reversing a statement he made two years ago." The reporters went on to note that their source was the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that the pope had responded positively to his request for support for Turkey's admission to the EU. "‘You know we don't have a political role, but we wish for Turkey's entry into the EU,'" the pope said, according to Mr. Erdogan. "His wish is a positive recommendation for us," the prime minister concluded.

Was it? Or was this first-class prime-ministerial spin?

 Until the last minute, Mr. Erdogan, who leads a "moderate Islamic" party, had declined to meet the pope. Now, having changed his mind so as not to look like a cad, he likely wanted to demonstrate to his constituents that the man some of them had charged with leading a new "Crusade" had, so to speak, truckled, and at the prime minister's urging. At least that's what a typically worldly Timesman might have thought. But not Mr. Fisher and Ms. Tavernise, who apparently took Erdogan at his word (a courtesy the Times rarely extends to the President of the United States).

Buried in the twelfth and thirteenth paragraphs of the story was a statement by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, that might have given the Times pause — had the paper not been too busy chortling over Benedict's "concession" and "reversal." According to Father Lombardi, while the Vatican had neither the power nor the political clout to get Turkey admitted to the EU, the Holy See "looks positively and encourages the road of dialogue and of moving toward integration of Turkey in Europe on the basis of common values and principles." In other words, nothing whatsoever had changed in the Vatican's position on Turkey and the EU: if and when Turkey demonstrates that it is part of Europe — by, among other things, bringing the state's role in protecting religious freedom into line with European "values and principles" — then the integration of Turkey into the EU becomes a possibility. The question at issue today, just as it was when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger raised the point years ago, is whether Turkey can do that; unfortunately, it can't, now.

Why did the Times botch this so badly? It's a question of assumptions. The Times went to Istanbul convinced that the rigid, undiplomatic Benedict XVI had made a serious error in his September Regensburg lecture (an even more-egregious-than-usual Times editorial on November 29 derided the pope's "tone-deaf comments about Islam"). Evidently indifferent to the over-the-top Islamist response when Benedict at Regensburg raised the (obvious) question of why terrorists claimed the sanction of Islam for their deeds, the Times was looking for an apology. So when Mr. Erdogan put his spin machine into overdrive, the Times jumped aboard — and misinformed the world.

The Times is famous for criticizing what it judges to be the false assumptions that shape policies of which it disapproves. Might the newspaper-of-record — which has barely recovered from a variety of recent newsroom scandals, including the falsification of stories — take a moment to examine its own assumptions about Pope Benedict XVI? For if the Times hadn't assumed that "Pope Benedict = dolt," the Times wouldn't have blown the story in Istanbul.

George Weigel

By

George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • Guest

    Thank;you to George Weigel for giving us the whole story ; How could we get
    the Newyork Times admit their ” error ” ?
    Sincerely, V.C.

  • Guest

    Like any liberal, NYTimes admits no error for making no error. :)
    *
    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    Of course the media would be misreporting the pope! I have watched the media for years and it has become more and more powerful and more and more ruthless. Various outlets have no compunction now about even fabricating news and photos. We are dealing here with the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) and the spirit of error (1Jn 4:6). The devil is in the media. I watch the various conflicts occurring in the church largely promoted by misreporting or over reporting things which can be seen to be divisive or to create conflict, even among members of the heirarchy. The pope would not be immune to these incidents. We have to look at whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure , whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phil 4:8) because dwelling on the others will make us sick.

  • Guest

    Actually, ‘unprincipled’ and ‘concupiscent’ come more to mind about our media. Modern journalism schools must have some brain-washing element to them by which they put out fools such as these.

    I simply must thank God that I can see through them. It has to be His graces, because I should by now be as ‘brain-washed’ as the journalists seem to be, by this time.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)

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