[UPDATE: July 5, 2007: Francesco Liello responds! See comment three, below.]
Via ESPN, I learn that Francesco Liello, a correspondent for the Italian sports paper, La Gazzetta Dello Sport, ran a leg of the torch relay earlier this month in Hubei.
Liello, for those who don’t recall or follow these things, was the Italian reporter who, late last year, conjured up the totally false “Olympic Bible Ban” story – and then – when it became a minor international incident – refused to back down from it. Even after it was shown to be false.
[You can find my complete debunking of the story, here. Scroll down to the November 21 update for an explanation of how Liello’s mis-reading of a single sentence in a press dossier set off the whole mess.]
So far as I’ve been able to find, prior to ESPN’s mention, Newsweek’s Melinda Liu was the only English-language reporter to write about Liello’s torch run (on June 2 -I’m late to this, I know). Oddly, though, Liu’s story fails to mention Liello’s Bible Ban story – while ESPN manages to connect the dots (late, like me).
Anyway, for a few reasons, I’m deeply heartened by Liello’s run.
Last weekJaime FlorCruz, CNN’s bureau chief, was given the opportunity to run the torch – an invitation that many interpreted as a peace gesture after months of official and semi-official Chinese condemnation of CNN’s Jack Cafferty. Now, I have no idea whether or not Liello’s invitation was a similar gesture. It could be that he was invited because – as Liu’s piece notes – he is the first accredited foreign sports journalist in China. But I find it hard to believe that whoever offered the invitation was unaware of the Bible Ban story.
And yet, somehow, for some reason, it was overlooked and Liello was allowed to carry the torch through enthusiastic crowds that – according to Liu’s report – deeply moved him. What a fine thing.
[“In 90 seconds of running I learned more about China and the Olympics than I had in three years of reporting on China. The Chinese were excited, shouting, yelling…I want to believe that that kind of emotion is hard to fake, that they really do care so much about the Games.”]
Though I criticized Liello’s Bible Ban story when it was released, I felt no animosity to him [I received some emails suggesting that I might]. In fact, more than anything, I felt concern: would he face some kind of retribution for the mistake? As a fellow reporter, I empathize. In countries with relatively free presses, overzelaous mistakes in pursuit of illusory scoops can lead to professional penalties. In China, it can lead to other places. What I didn’t expect was that it would lead to the torch relay. In the current atmosphere of mis-trust and frustration that exists between foreign news organizations and China’s Olympic authorities, this strikes me as a rare bit of good news – and maturity.