Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Pope, the Tabloids, Winterval and that Muslim plot to kill him

I just happened to catch a glimpse of today's Daily Express headline "Pope's plea to save Christmas from the P.C. brigade" as I meandered through the supermarket with my beloved. I didn't pick it up, of course, what with it being toxic and therefore dangerous: all that bile spills out. I couldn't help reading Pope Benedict XVI yesterday made an impassioned plea for Britain to return to its Christian values and condemned the “politically correct brigade” who dismiss Christmas though. Gosh , politically correct brigade in speech marks. I suppose he must have said it then. Strange, though, how this German should use the sort of English beloved of the right-wing press.

I haven't taken a lot of notice of the Pope's visit to Britain. I don't feel particularly strongly one way or the other about it and I don't intend to turn out either to celebrate or to protest. I do hope he has a good visit, though, and that Britain's Catholics feel the spiritual benefit. I have to add that I feel rather sad for him with all that he has to shoulder right now: the poor man might be able to do something in his infallibility about his church's attitude to women's ministry, contraception, reproductive rights and its hateful attitude to homosexuality but I don't see him as personally culpable for the sexual abuse other priests have perpetrated against children. Even if his knee-jerk reaction might have been to play it down initially, he seems to have been quite proactive of late in rooting out those who were in some way complicit by action or lack of action. I've never felt that the top man falling on his sword for the limitations of those below him makes much sense.

Anyway, back to the Daily Express. I'm pretty sure the Pope had more important things to say than lament about the downplaying of Christmas. Assuming of course that you believe Christmas has been downplayed.

Doorman-Poirot investigates. I found the text of his speech. No: as I thought, not even a passing reference to Christmas. Nor, indeed one to Political Correctness, which is, of course, the bete noir of the right wing tabloids.

The Pope actually said Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.

Who could disagree with that most reasonable of prayers?

Perhaps the Daily Express had got it wrong. I know! Let's look at the Daily Mail, that bastion of all things truthful in our media.


"Popes Battle to save Christmas."

Perhaps I misread the Pope's speech.

No. Unless there were two speeches.

Quick INTERNET search. No, just the one at this stage in his visit.

How odd.

Let's try the Sun then. The Pontiff let rip at the politically correct knuckleheads who deem [Christmas] offensive to other faiths ... He urged his VIP audience to use their "respective spheres of influence" to help turn back a tide that has seen Christmas renamed Winterval.

Really? I'm sorry but I just don't read that in the Pope's text.

How about the Daily Star? Speaking to a packed Westminster Hall in London, he urged people to turn their backs on the use of words like “Winterval” to describe the festival of Jesus’s birth.

Enough. ENOUGH. He didn't say anything of the sort! What is it with these people?

Aha! Sanity at last. Let's hear it for the Guardian (An article from 2006) Now all is made clear.

How audacious of the tabloids to plant these words in the mouth of the Pope. This isn't a simple misquotation, it is telling outrageous lies in an attempt to give legitimacy to their agenda in the confidence that a supine public will soak it up like sponges. I hope (but doubt) that he sues.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse I heard on the radio that a group of London street cleaners had been arrested on suspicion of plotting to do harm to the Pope. They had, it seems, the shift that would have seen them cleaning along the Pope's route in the early hours, giving them plenty of time to plot dastardly things.

The Daily Mirror gave us Six street cleaners arrested as cops foil plot to Kill the Pope It did have the good grace to refer to an "alleged" plot and was circumspect when it said It was feared the men were planning to plant bombs in bins to blow up the 83-year-old as he travelled through Central London on the second day of his UK trip. Thousands of innocent people would have been caught up in the blasts. and it was helpful to note Officers had insisted there was no intelligence warning of attacks on the pontiff. Sources said it suggested the threat was received in the last 24 hours and police took a "safety first" approach.

It wasn't perhaps quite so helpful to point out that the six men were of Algerian or Moroccan descent. Such details lead to speculation and rumour. And so the Daily Mail joins up the dotted lines and gives us Armed officers detained the men, all believed to be Muslims ... but also accurately pointed out A few hours earlier, counter-terrorism officers had been tipped off that the men could have been planning to ‘harm’ Pope Benedict XVI or carry out some sort of atrocity to coincide with his visit. With only a short time to assess the credibility of the information, Yard chiefs authorised their arrests but then rather spoilt it by adding Their response reflected the nervousness which surrounds the visit of the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics – who prompted outrage four years ago when he said the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only ‘evil and inhuman’ things.

That's a big jump into speculation and by now the India Times is reporting Al Qaeda Plot to Kill Pope Benedict XVI Foiled In London By Scotland Yard .

The Daily Star takes an altogether different view Coleen Rooney hopes to meet the Pope after infidelity and illness tested her faith Always with their finger on the pulse, the Star. It did go on to note Armed police were last night guarding the Pope after an alleged plot to assassinate him was smashed Although one wonders how a plot which is merely a plot can be smashed. If it isn't a plot, there's nothing to smash. The Star helpfully went on to point out that the suspects hailed from Algeria, which is plagued by terrorism. I don't know about you but I think in making that link an idea is being planted. The Sun adds, darkly, that They are said to have only recently started work there which is obviously deeply suspicious.

But, as ever, the prize for the best story must go to the Daily Express who gave us Islamic terrorists disguised as street cleaners allegedly hatched an audacious plot to blow up the Pope Wow, Islamic Terrorists disguised as street cleaners on our streets allegedly plotting. Doesn't really work that, does it? It is an interesting juxtaposition of "terrorist" and "alleged". The Express went way further than the other papers in its baseless speculation It is feared plotters with links to Al Qaeda planned “a double blow to the infidel” by assassinating the head of the Roman Catholic church and slaughtering hundreds of pilgrims and well-wishers Again, note the use of speechmarks. Who was it, one wonders, who actually said this? And finally, just in case they turn out not be terrorists the Express has an escape clause An investigation is also under way to determine if the foreign nationals had entered Britain legally and were entitled to work here

So far then we have been told that they are Algerian - or perhaps Moroccan, are Muslims, they come from countries where terrorism is rife, they are recently employed bogus workers and they were plotting as an Al Qaeda cell to blow up the Pope and countless bystanders. Or they might just be illegal immigrants which to the tabloids is almost as bad as being a fully fledged terrorist.

All of these make today's Guardian-on-line headline Street cleaners who were arrested on Friday said to pose no credible threat and have been released without charge something of an anti-climax.

Still, in tabloidland there's no smoke without fire.

Don't hold your breath for a retraction or apology any time soon.