September 18, 2006

Apologize already

My blogospheric friend argotnaut had an interesting post yesterday about the pope's "apology" to the world's Muslims. She quotes the following from this Yahoo! News article:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address ... which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the pope said during the traditional Angelus blessing from the balcony of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

To which argotnaut fairly responds:

"I'm sorry YOU went bonkers over what I said" is far, far, far from any kind of real apology, such as "I'm sorry I said that."

(In case you missed these here on Language Log before, here are two posts on the art of the (non-)apology.)

That'll teach me to trust the headlines and summary sentences in the RSS feed I subscribe to from the New York Times. Until I read argotnaut's post, I had assumed that the pope had initially issued a non-apology and then an actual apology.

This assumption was based on the following headlines and summary sentences for three articles by Ian Fisher. (Note: the third article is more or less a reworking of the second, hence the same summary sentence.)

  1. Sept. 16: Vatican Says Pope Benedict Regrets Offending Muslims
    The Vatican statement stopped short of the direct personal apology from Benedict that many Muslims have been demanding.
  2. Sept. 17: Pope Apologizes for Remarks About Islam
    Church experts said it appeared to be first time a pope has made such a direct apology.
  3. Sept. 17: In a Rare Step, Pope Expresses Personal Regret
    Church experts said it appeared to be first time a pope has made such a direct apology.

Just based on the headlines and summary sentences, doesn't it sound like the pope first tried to "express regret" and then actually apologized? It sure did to me, but I was wrong. From what I gather from the articles, the only difference between the pope's two (sets of) statements is that he was a little more clear the second time around about whether or not he agrees with the sentiment of the quotation that has (rightly) upset Muslims the world over. In the first story we find:

Cardinal Bertone, named the second-in-command at the Vatican on Friday, said that the pope's comments had been interpreted in a way that "absolutely did not correspond to his intentions." [...] While making clear that he was quoting someone else, Benedict did not say whether he agreed or not.

By contrast, the second story says:

"These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," the pope, 79, said in Italian, according to the official English translation.

That's certainly an improvement, but still not the "direct apology" that many seek from the pope in this case.

And it's a good thing I've learned to be skeptical of the headlines and summary sentences on my NYT RSS feed. This morning, I read the following:

But then I read the article, where it says (emphasis added):

The astronauts first reported smoke, but Mr. Williams later said that what they were detecting was a chemical smell. Potassium hydroxide itself is odorless, but the smell was probably associated with whatever caused the leak, such as a gasket in the Elektron that may have overheated.

I guess consistency between headline/summary and article is too much to expect from the NYT.

[ Update --

See now Ian Fisher's Sept. 18 article, Many Muslims Say Pope's Apology Is Inadequate. (Summary sentence: "The pope had only said he was 'sorry' for the 'reaction' to a speech discussing Islam last week, noted some Muslims.")

Many Muslims -- and some Catholics -- noted that the pope had only said he was "sorry" for the "reaction" that fanned out across the Muslim world and among Muslims in Europe. He did not say that he had made a mistake in using the quotations.

"You either have to say 'I'm sorry' in a proper way or don't say it at all," said Mehmet Aydin, a state minister in Turkey, where Benedict is scheduled to visit in November in his first trip to a Muslim country. "Are you sorry for saying such a thing or because of the consequences?"

-- end update ]

[ Update 2 --

Note now the new title for the first Sept. 17 article: Pope Apologizes for Uproar Over His Remarks. That just says it all right there.

-- end update 2 ]

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at September 18, 2006 11:33 AM