Mixed bag on the Betancourt coverage

purple rosaryThe rescue of 14 hostages in the Colombian jungle last week could not have been more dramatic. Military intelligence agents infiltrated the leftist rebel organization and tricked them into handing over kidnapped presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors without a shot being fired. My absolute favorite detail in the story was that the Colombian operatives duped the bad guys in part by wearing Che Guevara shirts. If only this could end the scourge of Che Guevara shirts forever! Anyway, if you had been held hostage for six years, what would you do upon your release? Betancourt thanked God repeatedly, knelt and prayed as soon as she hit solid ground, showed off the rosary she'd made during her captivity and talked about how her faith helped sustain her during her horrific time with the terrorists. It must have made the media uncomfortable to hear her speak so much about the Virgin Mary, angels, miracles and God because even though she was being quite blatant about it, most early reports ignored it or glossed over it.

Sheila Liaugminas wrote about the lack of coverage for Mercatornet.com. After summarizing a number of mainstream stories, Liaugminas writes:

There are a few points these stories didn't quite capture. Neither did the kidnappers.

They were there to be seen, though, on CNN's excellent coverage of the hostage rescue Wednesday evening, as the suddenly freed group emerged from the helicopter for the first time, in scenes of hugs and tears and jubilant faces. The immediate crowd greeting them included Betancourt's mother, government and military officials, those closely involved. After many hugs and kisses, after initial tears were brushed back, Betancourt turned around and made the sign of the cross and closed her eyes momentarily. She did this several times over the next several minutes. When she went before the assembled press microphones for the first time, she spoke of the rescue as 'God's miracle', a reference she repeatedly made. Betancourt said she had started the day that morning praying the rosary, and that the Virgin came to her aid. She spoke of faith, and closed her eyes, face up to the sky, and thanked God.

In only one camera angle among all the video airing in this coverage, one could see, briefly, that among that crowd assembled at the helicopter to greet the rescued group, a priest in alb and stole was next to Betancourt's mother.

I actually think details such as these make the story even more compelling. I wish reporters would feel comfortable including them in their accounts. If you read Spanish, you can get more media and media analysis of Betancourt's God-talk.

Some stories did a great job of mentioning Betancourt's religious views. This New York Times story, for instance:

In comments to Europe 1 radio, she said that her captors had chained her day and night for the first three years, but that she was sustained by her Roman Catholic faith and thoughts of her family. "I was in chains all the time, 24 hours a day, for three years," she said. "I tried to wear those chains with dignity, even if I felt that it was unbearable."

Asked if she had been tortured, she said, "Yes, yes," and said her captors had fallen into "diabolical behavior," adding, "It was so monstrous I think they themselves were disgusted." She called her rescue "a miracle of the Virgin Mary" and said, "You need tremendous spirituality to stop yourself falling into the abyss." She had made herself a wooden rosary in the jungle, she said.

Pope Benedict XVI has invited her to meet him next week.

This Reuters story has both good and bad:

Freed Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, a devout Catholic who prayed daily during six years in captivity, will visit the shrine of Lourdes in southwest France this week, a source close to her said on Monday.

Betancourt, who was held in the Colombian jungle by guerrillas of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has compared her rescue by the Colombian army last week to a miracle.

It would be both more efficient and more accurate to say she called her rescue a miracle rather than that she "compared" it to a miracle. It just sounds so awkward and clumsy the way that's written. (Here's a Catholic media account of the visit to Lourdes.) In Reuters' big photo package on Betancourt, they have this beautiful shot of Betancourt's handmade rosary.

Probably my favorite story was by Steven Erlanger for the International Herald Tribune. Much of the interview is about her Roman Catholic faith:

She wants to bear witness, "but it has to come at the right moment," she said, her eyes tearing.

Only a week after liberation, "I need time," she said, speaking English. "It's not easy to talk about things that are still hurting. And probably it will hurt all my life, I don't know. The only thing I've settled in my mind is that I want to forgive, and forgiving comes with forgetting.

"So I have to do two things. I have to forget in order to find peace in my soul and forgive. But once I've forgiven and forgotten, I will have to bring back memories. Probably they will be filtered by time, so they won't come with all the pain I feel now."

che guevara time magazine One of the interesting things I read on a Spanish site was that she had said her faith had lapsed prior to her kidnapping. I thought of that when I read this portion of the Erlanger piece:

Even her rosary, she said, was "an error." She remembered her late father saying the rosary, but could not remember whether she was supposed to pray 10 times to the Virgin Mary.

"So I thought, maybe 15 times," she said, fingering the 15 buttons that make up her rosary, taken from a jacket the guerrillas had provided her. "So I did 15 buttons."

God is personal to her, she said. "I talk to him and he responds." People dismiss miracles, she said, and "talk of coincidences," but for her, "I think they happen all the time to everyone."

Compare that account to this Associated Press story that ostensibly covers the same topic, if not the same meeting with the press. There is no mention of religion. Even Betancourt's reference to the importance of private activity such as prayer and meditation is sanitized just to "meditation." You actually have to put more effort into removing religious references from Betancourt's speech than just quoting her as is. Thankfully, though, coverage of this woman and her faith has improved with time.

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