AP not sweating details on stories

A reader passed along this gem from the Associated Press that begins:

SAN FRANCISCO DE YARE, Venezuela — The descendants of African slaves donned masks and bright red costumes as they danced through the streets of this small Venezuelan town on Thursday for its annual commemoration of Corpus Cristi.

Young men beat drums and shook maracas as the “devils” paraded through the streets and people gathered to celebrate Corpus Cristi, a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine.

Um, come again? A “Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine?” I’m actually of the mindset that 100 percent of educated people should have a passing knowledge of what the Eucharist means to traditional Christians. But even if you think that’s too much to expect, I’m sure we all agree that reporters and editors on stories about the Eucharist should have a passing knowledge of it, right?

The error is repeated throughout a 16-photo slideshow over at Huffington Post. Each caption includes the error, including this one:

Men dressed as a dancing devils perform on the streets in San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela, Thursday, May 30, 2013. The descendants of African slaves donned colorful masks and bright red costumes as they danced through the streets of this small Venezuelan town on Thursday for its annual commemoration of Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

I’m going to go ahead and let (HuffPo commenter) MirrorMonkey take it from here:

What incompetents who humorously claim to be “professional journalists” wrote this gross public display of doltish ignorance?

Corpus Christi is certainly not a “Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine.” It is instead a Catholic solemnity that commemorates exactly the opposite: namely, how in the Eucharist, mere bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ. Reversing it, as the writer did, is as clueless as saying that a wedding ceremony celebrates the transformation of a married couple into two unmarried people who will live apart.

Furthermore, in a Corpus Christi procession, priests don’t ” carry sacramental bread.” If it were believed to be mere bread, there would be no point in carrying it and honoring it at all. Instead, Catholics believe that regardless of any appearances of bread (that is, the “accidents”), the reality of the Eucharist is that it isn’t bread at all, but is really and truly the Body of Jesus Christ. The priests therefore carry what they believe to be Jesus Christ through the streets — which is why the feast is called (doh!) Corpus Christi, or the Body of Christi.

I know that reporters today are not expected to know anything about the subjects of their stories, but it is unfortunate that the total lack of basic cultural knowledge is now tolerated among those who are supposed to be their editors as well.

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The 10 people Chávez meets in heaven

YouTube Preview ImageA story I have yet to see in the Anglo-American press is the apotheosis of Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan strongman died on 5 March 2013 after fifteen years in office leaving Venezuela with 25 per cent inflation,  public debt at 70 percent of GDP, a shortage of basic consumer goods, a crumbling electrical grid with frequent power outages, widespread crime and a serious contraction of the oil industry — the source of 95 per cent of the country’s exports. Since 1998 U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude have fallen by half.

The press has so far focused on the economy, foreign affairs and the political campaign to elect a new president. The better stories have been asking whether Chavismo can survive without Chávez  — if Marxism can survive without Marx, Leninism without Lenin, and Peronism without Peron then Chavismo may be able to survive without Chávez. His handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, who has  the backing of the army, the poor and the country’s petrodollars may retain power. Or will Chavismo go the way of Stalinism, Maoism or Hitlerism?

The regime appears to be taking as few chances as possible — and just in time for Good Friday —  ViVe, the cultural TV channel owned by the Venezuelan government has broadcast a children’s animated short film showing  Hugo Chávez in heaven.

The film shows the ten people Chávez meets as he enters paradise: Indian leader Gaicauipuro, Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, Chile’s Salvador Allende, Venezuela’s negro primero Pedro Camejo; Argentina’s Evita Peron, the “people’s singer” Ali Primera, Che Guevara, Chavez’s grandmother Rosa Ines, Ezequiel Zamora, and Simón Bolívar.

The title of this film: “Hasta siempre, Comandante”, has meaning beyond a farewell to El Comandante (Chávez’s popular name with the masses.) It was also the headline of the article in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, announcing Chávez’s death — and (coincidentally?) is the title of a leftist ballad celebrating the life of Che Guevara. Here is a link to a version ascribed to Joan Baez, whose closing stanzas proclaim:

Your revolutionary love
leads you to a new undertaking
where they are awaiting the firmness
of your liberating arm

We will carry on
as we did along with you
and with Fidel we say to you:
Until Always, Commandante!

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Jesus, the Mahdi and Hugo Chavez

A note of condolence written by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon the death of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been the occasion of some of some mirth in the press. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post have made arch references to President Ahmadinejad’s statement that Hugo Chavez will be resurrected at the end of time. The Washington Post observed:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Tehran today to attend Hugo Chavez’s funeral. But that’s not all — in his condolences for the former Venezuelan president, Ahmadinejad said he has “no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect” Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite Muslims, according to AP. Ahmadinejad also said the three men will together “establish peace, justice and kindness” in the world, and that he is “suspicious” about the cause of Chavez’s cancer.

The Huffington Post began its story by stating:

Hugo Chavez had a friend in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who apparently held the Venezuelan leader in such high regard that he believes he will “return on resurrection day” with Jesus Christ and will “establish peace, justice, and kindness” on earth. After Chavez’s death on Tuesday afternoon, Ahmadinejad released a statement on Wednesday to announce a day of public mourning, according to Iran’s Raja News, Ahmadinejad’s official news agency. In his message, Ahmadinejad voiced skepticism over Chavez’s “suspicious” illness and proclaimed that the 58-year-old will resurrect with Jesus one day.

The tone of these stories suggests the Iranian president is a loon. Is that fair? I don’t know if President Ahmadinejad is a loon, but the statement on his website cited by these reports is not sufficient cause for making such a claim. Let’s look at the text and see what it actually says. The translation provided by the Mehr news agency states in part:

Chavez is alive, as long as justice, love and freedom are living. He is alive, as long as piety, brightness, and humanity are living. He is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Savior, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all.

The language is flowery but not inconsistent with Muslim teachings on the end of time. Like Christians, Muslims believe that at the end of time Jesus will return, the dead shall be raised and the wicked and the righteous shall be judged, and will merit a place in Heaven or Hell. How this happens and the role played by Jesus are very different in the eschatology of Islam and Christianity — that is to say they are completely incompatible. Nor are Muslims in agreement on all aspects of eschatology, the final things.

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