Both the Associated Press and Reuters made the mistake, and it is not the first time that this has happened.
President Donald Trump threatened Iran with “obliteration” on Tuesday after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was misquoted by the two outlets as saying Trump is “afflicted by mental retardation”.
The Associated Press tweeted this week that “Iran’s President Rouhani mocks President Trump, says the White House is ‘afflicted by mental retardation’.”
Western media outlets inaccurately rendered the terms Rouhani used in English as a highly offensive insult.
Farsi speakers however pointed out that the Rouhani never used the Farsi word for “retarded”. One Frasi speaker, Sina Toossi offered a correction: “A lot of Western media is reporting that Iranian President Rouhani called Trump ‘mentally retarded’. This is inaccurate. Regarding Trump, he just said ‘no wise person would take such an action [the new sanctions imposed]’.”
Similarly, Reza H Akbari noted the mistranslation: “Absolutely incorrect. There is a word for ‘retarded’ in Persian and Rouhani didn’t use it. […] Those who speak Persian can listen and judge for themselves.”
President Trump responded to the “insult” by tweeting: “Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words ‘nice’ or ‘compassion’, they never have. Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone.
“The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else. The US has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more.
“Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry and Obama!”
Reuters then fanned the flames of discontent between the two leaders, by stating that “President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran […] in a new war of words with Iran which condemned fresh US sanctions on Tehran as ‘mentally retarded’.”
The BBC Monitoring has since put out a Linguistic advisory to set the record straight: “Iran’s president did not call Trump ‘retarded’.”
A word-for-word translation of Rouhani’s remark would be: “They have become stricken with rational incapability [Persian: natavani-ye zehni]. The White House has become stricken with rational disability [Persian: ma’luliyat-e zehni]. They don’t know what to do.”
The Farsi equivalent for “retarded” is “aqab mande”, which means delayed in development or progress. The Iranian leader did not use this term. But hundreds of media outlets have since reproduced the false claims that the two agencies reported.
In 2005, a speech by former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was misquoted. The British newspaper, the Guardian quoted Iran’s president as saying Israel should be wiped off map. The New York Times repeated the misquote: “Iran’s conservative new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Wednesday that Israel must be ‘wiped off the map’ and that attacks by Palestinians would destroy it, the ISNA press agency reported.”
Nicholas Burns, the US Secretary of State for Political Affairs, even repeated the misquote recently: “Given the radical nature of Iran under Ahmadinejad and its stated wish to wipe Israel off the map of the world, it is entirely unconvincing that we could or should live with a nuclear Iran.”
Ahmedinejad never used those words, says Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan. He pointed out: “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian.”
Cole confirmed that the Iranian president was misquoted. “He did say he hoped its regime, ie, a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.”
Since Iran has not “attacked another country aggressively for over a century,” he said in an e-mail exchange, “I smell the whiff of war propaganda.”