Semantics is an intellectual sport not for the faint of heart, made even more difficult by differences in culture and language. Journalistic standards, however, are a matter of concern to everyone.
CNN and the Wall Street Journal are currently engaged in the news media equivalent of a street fight over a translation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s indirect reference to Nazi extermination of Jews during a visit to New York and the United Nations. The latest salvo in the journalistic battle is a Wall Street Journal editorial today: CNN’sTehran Translation. This follows Christiane Amanpour’s defense of her translation on Anderson Cooper 360 wherein she describes other interpretations as “piffle.”
The Iranian president either condemned the Jewish Holocaust or he did not, depending on whose journalistic standards you rely upon. This is important because it has been an article of Iranian ideological faith that Jews were no more the target of Hitler and the Nazis than any other peoples.
This refutation of fact and history is a fundamental tool of Iran’s public relations ministry but is also an obstacle to normalizing relations with the West and having economic sanctions lifted. Iranians like to mention, truthfully, that it has the largest population of Jews of any Muslim country-an estimated 25,000 to 35,000-albeit half of the population before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A Sephardic website describes the many paradoxes faced by Jewish enclaves in Iran.
In the journalistic contretemps now taking place between CNN and the Wall Street Journal, there are matters of both head and heart. The heart wants to believe that the Amanpour translation is the right one, and that the Iranian president and Supreme Leaders roundly condemn the anti-Semitism that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The head tells you that the undeclared Iranian war against the state of Israel demands the lie .
There may not be an equivalent word or concept in Farsi but maybe the Iranian leadership could simply use the word “Holocaust,” as other countries do. It’s a lot easier than straining your imagination to recite the euphemisms pointed out in the Wall Street Journal editorial.
Instead of a”Holocaust” wherein 6 million Jews were brutally exterminated, Rouhani uses “aspects of historical events” and the killing of “a group of Jewish people.”
Christiane Amanpour says she is stunned by the Wall Street Journal’s “jump into bed with Iranian extremist mouthpiece like FARS.” But the WSJ says it expects an apology and will not be giving one.
The paper countered the “jump into bed” accusation with a counterfactual. Amanpour’s language interpreter was part of Rouhani’s official government entourage.