Tracking Media Spin: How the Pope's Words Were Morphed into Muslim-Bashing

Hilary White tracks how the Pope's scholarly lecture on Muslim-Christian relations was spun into a hate-filled tirade by manipulative media outlets. What is fact and what is media coverage are never the same, and White tracks the "meme," how the coverage of the Pope's remarks was slightly altered over time.

Media outlets expect the masses to be beholden to these manipulative techniques, and expect politicians to hyperventilate over the latest version of events.

The BBC started the flames by being the first to promote a bogus version of the event. Then later it reported that "Muslim anger grows at Pope speech."

The day after the speech, Wednesday the 13th, the Pope’s lecture elicited little response from apparently bored secular journalists who had little interest in what was considered his “obscure” and “academic” points on the relationship between religious belief and the secular world.

Catholic news sources who reported the day after the lecture were also quiet. “Pope spends quiet afternoon at home with brother,” was the leading headline at Catholic World Report.

On Thursday the 14th, however, under the headline “Pope's speech stirs Muslim anger,” the BBC began with a report that police in Kashmir had seized newspapers carrying coverage of the pope’s speech in order “to prevent tension.” The BBC’s coverage did not include any quote from the Indian-administered Kashmiri police force.

The BBC’s September 14th report was transmitted around the world in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi (the language of Iran), Urdu, the official language of Pakistan; and Malay. The next day, the anticipated furor had became a reality.

Immediately after the appearance of the first BBC coverage, the Pakistani parliament issued a declaration condemning Benedict’s speech and demanding an apology.

Later the same day, the BBC published, under the headline, “Muslim anger grows at Pope speech” a report on the Pakistan government’s reaction. It quoted the head of the Islamic extremist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, saying “the Pope's remarks ‘aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world’.

The same day, the Guardian, following the BBC’s lead, ran the headline, “Muslim anger builds over Pope's speech.” From that moment, the internet was flooded with reportage from around the world on the Pope’s alleged “attack” on Islam and the predicted response from Islamic groups began.

At first, the New York Times was honest about the true nature of speech, but then jumped on the media bandwagon like everyone else.
On the 13th, the New York Times, focusing on the Pope’s critique of Western secularism ran the headline, “The Pope Assails Secularism, with a Note on Jihad.” The report contained no hint of their later demands for papal apologies.

Ian Fisher wrote, “Several experts on the Catholic Church and Islam agreed that the speech — in which Benedict made clear he was quoting other sources on Islam — did not appear to be a major statement on, or condemnation of, Islam.”

By the weekend, however, the New York Times had dropped its examination of the content and intention of the pope’s lecture, and joined the chorus of demands for apologies in its editorial.