Burden Put on Pope, Not Muslim Leaders, for Violence; NBC Calls Pope 'Hardliner'

Several network stories have framed the violent reaction of some Muslims to Pope Benedict's quotation last week of how 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos II said, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” not around demands that Muslim leaders denounce the uncivilized reaction, but around how the Pope had “provoked” the violence, “damaged” relations with Muslims and should have realized what his words would cause.

Brian Williams teased Monday's NBC Nightly News: "The Pope says he's sorry, but is his apology enough? Tonight, there's fresh outrage and new threats over his words about Islam." Reporter Richard Engel soon held the Pope accountable: “This Pope is seen as something of a hardliner who wants Europe to understand its Christian roots, to embrace them first...” Over on the CBS Evening News, Mark Phillips insisted that “an angry reaction among Muslim extremists might have been anticipated, but even moderates...say the Pope's words make their job much harder.” ABC anchor Charles Gibson contended: “Perhaps the surprise was that the Vatican was surprised that Muslims took offense.” David Wright's conclusion suggested both religions are equally responsible, when only one is committing violence: “Two of the world's great religions, a crucial test: Can they speak frankly without causing an uproar?” On Sunday night, anchor Dan Harris led with how “some Muslims say the Pope's apology doesn't go far enough.” ABC featured Professor Fawaz Gerges, who declared: “I think even though the Pope apologized today, I think it's gonna take years for the damage done to Christian-Muslim relations to be repaired.” (Transcripts follow)

On Monday's Good Morning America, Megan McCormack recounted in a Monday afternoon NewsBusters posting, Diane Sawyer found the Pope's use of the quote “baffling,” and wondered if the Pope’s decision to insert it into his speech was “an attempt at provocation” with Muslims. Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham, for his part, found the Pope’s speech to be a “heavy-handed” and “clumsy” attempt at starting a dialogue with the Islamic community.

Some transcripts from Monday night, September 18, and Sunday night, September 17, gathered by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, though I handled the partial CBS one myself:

CBS Evening News, Monday night:
Story from Mark Phillips, joined in progress: “...But what did Pope Benedict say exactly, and what can be said about Islam in the current environment that doesn't cause an excessive reaction? In a speech last week to academics about violence and religion in history, Benedict quoted a medieval Christian emperor saying some of Mohammed teachings have produced evil and inhumane results. An angry reaction among Muslim extremists might have been anticipated, but even moderates, like Asghar Bukhari who've been working for inter-faith dialog, say the Pope's words make their job much harder.”

Asghar Bukhari, Muslin Public Affairs Committee, UK: “To be honest, I'm not looking for an apology. I don't want him to beg or grovel or say sorry a hundred times. That doesn't solve it, many of the people now have worse understanding of each other, perhaps hate each other more than they previously did.”

Phillips: “The Vatican says Pope Benedict will expand on his apology at his public audience in Rome on Wednesday. But the jihadists calling for war against the West already have all the ammo they need. Some Muslim groups are calling for an international day of anger later this week. Mark Phillips, CBS News, London.”


ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, Monday night:
Charles Gibson: "You have, no doubt, heard about the Muslim protests over the weekend, protesting a speech given by the Pope. Speaking about the prophet Mohammed, Pope Benedict was quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' Perhaps the surprise was that the Vatican was surprised that Muslims took offense. 'A Closer Look' at the situation tonight from ABC's David Wright in Rome."

David Wright: "The offending remarks came in a scholarly speech at the Pope's alma mater. The speech, the Vatican insists, was an invitation for a dialogue between Christians and Muslims."

Robert Mickens, The Tablet: "And I think, rather naively, they didn't realize that the media doesn't work on ten-page lectures. Those words, in the mouth of a Pope, sounds like an endorsement."

Wright: "The Vatican seemed unprepared for the angry and sometimes violent reaction that has quickly swept across the Islamic world. So, this weekend, a frantic effort at damage control. The Pope himself offered his own deep apologies, a remarkable act of humility for a church that took 500 years to apologize to Galileo."

Marco Politi, La Repubblica: "Never a Pope, so publicly and personally, came out saying I regret what I have said."

Wright: "Here at the Vatican, they were clearly hoping that would settle the issue. But tonight, that appears to have been wishful thinking. The controversy has provoked an interfaith dialogue, but it's not exactly a friendly conversation. Today, al-Qaeda in Iraq vowed jihad against the worshipers of the Cross, and Shiite protesters in Basra burnt the Pope in effigy. As angry as the protests have been, in every Islamic city, many urged restraint so as not to reinforce negative stereotypes associating Islam with violence."

Rami Hazoo, Cairo tour guide: "Our world needs to be a bit more understanding and not jump at every word that somebody says."

Wright: "Muslim leaders are now calling for Friday to be a worldwide nonviolent day of rage. Two of the world's great religions, a crucial test. Can they speak frankly without causing an uproar? David Wright, ABC News, Rome."


ABC's World News Sunday:
Dan Harris, in opening teaser: "And good evening. I'm Dan Harris. Tonight, Pope Benedict says he is deeply sorry after making a speech that has provoked violence across the Muslim world. But some Muslims say the Pope's apology doesn't go far enough. Will there now be more violence? That's our top story tonight."

After a story from David Wright, Harris went to a guest expert: "A moment ago, I spoke to ABC News analyst Fawaz Gerges, who's an expert on the Muslim world. He is in Cairo tonight, and I asked him if he thinks the violence will now get worse."

Prof. Fawaz Gerges, International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies, Sarah Lawrence College: "Well, absolutely. I think even though the Pope apologized today, I think it's gonna take years for the damage done to Christian-Muslim relations to be repaired. People here really, Dan, are hurt. They believe that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church insulted their prophet and religion. There's a great deal of anger, a widespread sentiment that what the Pope did was to supply religious justification for what they believe is an onslaught against Islam and Muslims."

Harris: "Earlier this year, there was an uproar over editorial cartoons that were printed in newspapers across Europe that compared the Prophet Mohammed to a terrorist. Is this crisis worse?"

Gerges: "Absolutely, Dan. Remember, we're not talking about writers, about journalists here. As the Imam of the Al-Ashar mosque, I talked to him on Friday, he's one, it's one of the oldest and most prestigious religious institutions in Egypt, he said to me, 'Listen, we expected better from the leader of the Catholic Church.' People here, Dan, don't see what the Pope said in isolation. They see it as part of an onslaught against Islam and Muslims, really across the board, even students at the American University, progressive liberal students, feel deeply hurt and angry by the remarks of the Pope, in particular, against the Prophet, that is Prophet Mohammed. And comparing the Prophet, calling him, you know, referring to him in terms of evil and inhumanity and so on and so forth."


NBC Nightly News, Monday night:
Brian Williams, in opening teaser: "The Pope says he's sorry, but is his apology enough? Tonight, there's fresh outrage and new threats over his words about Islam."

Williams, following a taped report from Keith Miller, turned to Richard Engel back from Iraq and at the anchor desk: "And for more here tonight on this fallout from the Pope's speech, we're fortunate to have our NBC News Chief Middle East correspondent Richard Engel here with us in New York at our headquarters. And, Richard, this, it's your position, this doesn't help a problem the Pope already had."

Richard Engel: "Absolutely, Brian. He was already very unpopular in the Middle East, unlike Pope John Paul II, who was seen as someone who was preaching peace and understanding, and was embraced by many people across the Middle East. This Pope is seen as something of a hardliner who wants Europe to understand its Christian roots, to embrace them first, and that only after that a Christian identity has been encapsulated, that then there should be a dialogue with the Muslim world."

Williams: "And in talking to you here today, you reminded us this was also a story that was exacerbated and accelerated by being in our Internet age."

Engel: "Absolutely. Most people in the Middle East are not following every speech that's given by the Pope, but time and time again, we've seen a relatively small incident like this one. First, there was the cartoons this summer, and before that, there was the incident of the Newsweek article that accused guards at Guantanamo Bay of flushing a Koran down the toilet. A small group of radicals was able to use these issues, spread them around the world, and put them on the Muslim agenda."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center