Fit of knavery at The Mail copy desk?

There are times, in journalism, when one needs to laugh instead of crying.

This may or may not be one of those cases. I do not know. Honest.

To make a long story short, the following story from The Daily Mail is not the kind of report that I would be joking about, under normal conditions. Thus, let’s deal with the horrific details first, before we reach at the humorous mistake that provides a journalistic subplot.

You may want to sit down before reading this one:

Churchgoers were left stunned after a man tore out both his eyeballs in the middle of a priest’s sermon at Sunday Mass in a scene that resembled a horror film.

Parishioners in Viareggio, near Pisa, in northern Italy, could only watch as one of their number calmly stood up and carried out the horrific self-mutilation in front of them.

Aldo Bianchini, 46, who was born in Britain but has lived in Italy most of his life, is believed to have suffered from voices. He collapsed to the floor in a pool of blood as his mother frantically tried to help him while the local priest father Lorenzo Tanganelli rushed out to alert emergency services.

The drama happened at the Sant’Andrea church and last night surgeons at the local hospital said that after several hours surgery they had been unable to save his sight and he would remain blind.

Doctors said that before the surgery Bianchini had told them he had “heard voices” telling him to tear out his eyes and Dr Gino Barbacci said: “In all my 26 years of service I have never seen anything like this before. He was in a great deal of agony and he was covered in blood. He said that he had used his bare hands to gouge out his eye balls after hearing voices telling him to do so — to do something like that requires super human strength. …”

Terrible. Bizarre. Yet this was also a story made for the British tabloid story if there ever was one.

As you would expect, journalists probed for every colorful detail that they could in terms of the scene of this bloody drama and the precise sequence of events, as reported by horrified onlookers.

It is in this context that readers hear, once again, from the priest. I assume that this man is Father, not “father,” Lorenzo Tanganelli — as he was described earlier in the report. As we will see, the Mail reporter and editors who worked on this story have some gaps, when it comes to their knowledge of ecclesiastical language.

So let’s return to the story, with the priest noting:

“I had just started to read the sermon when all of a sudden there was a great commotion.

“This man at the back of the knave started tearing at his face and I realized he was gouging out his eyes. …”

Uh, is this the “knave” as in:

archaic — (a) : a boy servant (b) : a male servant (c) : a man of humble birth or position
2 — : a tricky deceitful fellow

Or might this priest actually have been referring to the “nave,” as in:

1 (n) The central part of a church, extending from the narthex to the chancel and flanked by aisles.

Let’s assume that the second word is correct.

Now, this is a rather silly little mistake. Nevertheless, I am curious. GetReligion readers, do you think this deserves a correction? Also, what think ye of the bizarre scriptural reference at the end of this news report?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Allie

    The scripture at the end of the report seems a bit out of place. If there was some sort of evidence that he had some habitual sin of the eyes (lusting, etc), then the quote makes sense. But without anything to back it up, it seems like the reporters just looked for some pull quote from the Bible that even tangentially related to what happened as their way of grasping at an explanation, even though others specifically mentioned mental illness.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I’m not finding a link to the whole story, but this is what caught my attention:

    is believed to have suffered from voices.

    That odd turn of phrase means, I assume, that he is believed to suffer from schizophrenia or some other serious mental illness involving a thought disorder. Possibly it’s a problem in translating information from Italian?

  • Christopher Esget

    I didn’t find the Scripture reference bizarre, but perhaps it’s because I was expecting it – first thing I thought of, actually, when they got to the eye-gouging bit. The real question is, was that passage read on that or a recent Sunday, or is there some reason why he would have encountered it recently? There’s quite possibly much more to the story.

  • Matt

    The Scripture reference is not bizarre at all. I do not doubt that a fixation on that passage played a part in this poor man’s dementia. On the other hand, it would have been a major improvement to further mention that theologians generally agree Jesus was speaking hyperbolically.

  • Ellyn

    Isn’t this the second “nave” slip-up in the past several weeks?

  • Dave

    I’m with Allie, it merits a correction.

    Like Christopher, the Scripture line popped into my head as soon as tmatt got down to the gist.

  • Ray Ingles

    The passage is famous and relevant – and probably should be quoted almost no matter what the facts are, simply because many readers will think of it immediately.

    However, the story should make clear if (a) it is known or suspected to have played a role, (b) it is known not to have played a role, or (c) no one’s sure if it was related.

  • Nicole Neroulias

    The Daily Mail also erroneously (maliciously?) published an online story that Amanda Knox’s murder conviction was upheld yesterday. Sounds like someone needs to hire more editors.

  • Jerry

    The Biblical quote illustrates a deep problem that some have with religion that Bobby illustrated in his post

    “Every religion seems sane to insiders and crazy to outsiders.”

    that seems to be operating here in the reporter’s choice to include that scriptural reference in a story about an evident psychotic.

    Secular people will automatically think, sarcastically, “yeah right”, when someone speaks of trying to follow God’s will. Religious and spiritual people will be thoughtful about what following God’s will really involves and in distinguishing God’s will from personal desires or mental illness. This can be illustrated with legends of Saints in the West, such as Saint Lucy and Surdas in the East.

    So, to me, that scriptural reference is wholly inappropriate unless the man had directly referenced the Bible as the reason for his actions rather than voices. Or, on the other hand, if the story was longer and included material exploring this deep issue, then the quote would have been a jumping off point for that exploration.

  • Will

    I would suggest that the reference is a “cupertino” perpetrated by auto-correct interference.

  • Frank Lockwood

    The scriptural reference didn’t strike me as odd at all. In fact, I would give the author and/or editor bonus points for being biblically literate enough to spot the apparent nexus between the verse and this act of self-mutiliation…

  • Julia

    The Biblical reference was right on. Whether the guy was motivated by that passage remains to be determined, but immediately comes to the mind of a religious reader.

  • MJBubba

    Will (#10), I doubt that this is an attack of spell-check. The default glossary in Microsoft Office includes “nave.” I would hope that the glossaries used by mass media journalists are at least that capable.

  • Mer

    Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor.

  • Cedric Klein

    No one is having flashbacks of Ray Milland in THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES?