The Pope vs. Muslims vs. the Media

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The following is a transcription of the September 23, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: Pope Benedict has spent a lot of time this week doing something that popes are not known for doing a lot of: apologizing.

Last week, the pope angered Muslims by quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who characterized Islam as "evil and inhumane," especially in regard to its advocacy of violence as a means of spreading the faith. In his apologies, the pontiff has made a point of saying the quote did not reflect his personal views.

On Monday, the pontiff will meet with representatives from Muslim nations at his summer residence.

You used the phrase last segment "conflict bias."

GABLER: Oh yes.

BURNS: Did the media play this story for the legitimate news story that it was, Neal? Or was there a conflict bias?

GABLER: Oh, there's clearly a conflict bias here. And look, I'm not going to fault them for fastening on the fact that Muslims responded violently to the pope's words.

But there was a comment made during an ABC story on this in which one of the commentators said, You can't expect the media to read the pope's entire speech. To which I said, Why not? Why can't you expect the media to read the pope's speech? Which is actually a very scholastic kind of essay on the relationship between reason and faith. If the press had done that, they would have put this in a much different context.

THOMAS: As we said in the last segment about these people like Ahmadinejad and Chavez, who come to the world stage, there's a point of diminishing returns. The first demonstrations and beheadings and all of the rest struck fear into a lot of Americans -- September 11th and the rest.

When you do this repeatedly, it's like Chicken Little and the sky is falling. People are starting to get angry about this sort of thing. Now when you go out and demonstrate and you shoot a nun in cold blood and all this stuff gets on television, and you want to demonstrate how you have a peace-loving religion, it begins to build up in Americans and other Westerners, I think, a certain immunity. And it produces diminishing returns to the point where you're now harming yourself.

I think the pope shouldn't have apologized. He said, why don't you go read the whole speech? And if you're going to indulge violence to prove that something I said was violent, then you've proved my point.

BURNS: Did he make all these apologies to any extent because there was so much press coverage? In other words, did the controversy come from journalism as opposed to from people who were seriously offended by his remarks -- Muslims, to a large extent?

HALL: Well, you know, I think a lot of Muslims were seriously offended. I also think there are people who were whipping up sentiment and protest and calling for a holy war. I think it is regrettable. I have to say, I read his speech. And as a reporter...

BURNS: Wait a minute. You read the whole speech?

HALL: I read the whole speech.

THOMAS: So did I.

HALL: And if I was trying to write a story, and that's in the third paragraph, you know, I think that's asking a lot of the media to ignore a fairly incendiary quote which he did not explain he was not endorsing. But I think it's an unholy alliance. The people are getting whipped up; he then has to apologize. Why not use this as an opportunity to call for dialogue, which is what he says he was trying to do?

PINKERTON: Well, The New York Times demanded that the pope apologize and debase himself. So we got that part of the liberal media covered.

What I found interesting -- and I read this piece, too -- And after all these apologies, I still am not exactly sure, since I'm not a trained theologian, exactly what the pope was apologizing for. And I'm not sure he should have apologized.


PINKERTON: But what strikes me, though, is that two sides in this media conflict were both delighted to take the pope at his words. The Muslims were happy to burn people and kill people and so on. And plenty of conservatives and neoconservatives were delighted to say, hey, the pope is absolutely right; we do need a clash of civilizations. -- I kept reading that over and over again. We're in a clash of civilizations. -- And so, the conflict bias, if you will, was both people saying, 'finally, somebody's given us an excuse we can now use to cleave apart the two civilizations.'


BURNS: I'm sorry, Cal; go ahead.

THOMAS: Well, how about another part of the conflict bias? We're always hearing about the moderate Muslims. How about the media going out and finding some of them, so they can have a conflict with the radicals and isolate them? Now that would be something, if they exist.

BURNS: Something the media never do, Neal, on any issue, from abortion to religion, whatever it is...

GABLER: Right.

BURNS: .whatever it is, is look for the moderate point of view, because it's not -- it's not a good show, is it? It's not good television.

GABLER: Well, in point of face, I mean, CBS, to its credit, did go out and find moderate Muslims. And what they said is, This doesn't help our cause, what the pope said. But to what extent was this a media-generated conflict? To the extent that the media focused on those lines.

THOMAS: Right.

GABLER: ...put those lines in the lead -- To what extent did they then generate this entire thing?

PINKERTON: But in fairness to the media, the pope either should have known or must have known what he was saying. I agree with Jane. He put it in there.

GABLER: Oh, I believe he did know.

PINKERTON: I mean, so in other words, the pope clearly had a message to get across. And he-- let's face it: he succeeded.

HALL: I wish there had been more questioning in other than commentary about the incredible dichotomy of, I'm going to prove to you that my religion is not violent by killing you. I mean, I'd like for someone to ask somebody that.


GABLER: Jon Stewart made that point actually...

BURNS: All right.

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