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CNN Engulfed By Controversy Over Mistranslation of Rouhani “Holocaust” Condemnation

CNN struggled today to address accusations that it had mistranslated an interview between the station’s Christiane Amanpour and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Two key passages of the interview – condemning the “Holocaust” and declaring that “whatever criminality they [the Nazis] committed against the Jews, we condemn” – were cited as evidence that the revolutionary-era cleric was seeking to break with the rhetoric of his Holocaust-denying predecesor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The remarks were widely reported, specifically cited, and broadly hailed – including by Amanpour herself – as a signal of Iranian moderation.

Iran’s state-controlled Fars news agency quickly published an accurate translation of the interview. They accused CNN of having “fabricated the remarks,” specifically identifying the “Holocaust” reference and the “criminality” passage as mistranslations that “totally change what President Rouhani has said.”

Amanpour dismissed the charges as “piffle,” but the clarification that did not go far in mollifying critics.

Instead the Wall Street Journal independently verified the translation, flatly concluding that CNN had mistranslated the language in a way that “made Mr. Rouhani seem so much more conciliatory than he was.”

The Daily Beast went further, noting that repeated caveats inserted by Rouhani questioning the scope of Nazi crimes against Jews should have in any case disqualified others from tenably characterizing him as having condemned the Holocaust:

But while Revolutionary Guards philologists are rather insistent that Rouhani never said “Holocaust,” condemned “whatever criminality [the Nazis] committed against the Jews,” or said the word “reprehensible,” all agree that he employed the old Holocaust deniers tricks of “questioning” the death toll, averring that many others groups were also victims, and claiming that a well-established historical fact requires further examination by “historians and researchers,” while repeatedly pointing out that he is “not a historian” (Ahmadinejad told NPR in 2010, that he was “not a historian” but that “we should allow researchers to examine all sorts of questions because it’s quite clear that when they do, they will reach different conclusions”). And even in CNN’s translation, Rouhani condemns unspecified “crimes,” while encouraging historians to “clarify” what actually happened.

CNN subsequently published a full transcript of the interview. It still had Rouhani condemning the “Holocaust” and declaring that “whatever criminality they [the Nazis] committed against the Jews, we condemn.” The transcript subsequently published by Rouhani’s office – in contrast, and translated by Al-Monitor Iran Pulse editor Arash Karami – is accurate. It confirms the original Fars translation, in which Rouhani said neither of the critical passages.