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A not-so-rare mistake

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 30, 2011

The news agency provides the stories, but the individual newspapers are free to substitute their own headlines: that’s the way the system works. But sometimes the newspaper editors are happy with the headline that comes over the wire with the story.

An AP story running this weekend began this way:

Pope Benedict XVI, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a child, has made a rare mention of life in Germany under the Nazis, calling it a "dark time."

Here are the headlines for that story, as it ran in a handful of American media outlets:

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. It’s not too hard to discern that AP ran the story with that headline, and American editors didn’t think they could improve on it. Except perhaps the editors at the Washington Post, who tacked on a few words:

Now you might well ask: What’s the problem? Everyone received the same story. Isn’t that desirable—as long as the story is accurate?

Ah, there’s the rub. The content of the AP story was generally accurate. But one word in the headline conveyed an inaccurate impression.

It isn’t at all “rare” for Pope Benedict to speak about his experience as a young man coming to maturity under Nazi rule. He has spoken about it in interviews; he has written about it in books. The subject has come up during his talks with priests and seminarians and young people, his talks on the Holocaust and the priesthood and the European culture and the basis for human rights. A quick check of the CWN archives showed nearly 100 news stories in which Pope Benedict spoke about the Nazi regime. Not all of those stories touched on his personal experiences, of course, but many did.

It’s a minor inaccuracy; no great harm has been done. But anyone who followed Vatican affairs at all closely would realize that it the headline was misleading. Yet again we have an illustration of why, if you’re interested in the news from the Vatican, you really can’t afford to rely on the secular news media. You need CWN, to correct the errors and put the whole picture back into the proper focus.

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