A death camp in Poland, not a Polish death camp

Updated
 
President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to former Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld, accepting for Jan Karski.
President Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to former Polish Foreign Minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld, accepting for Jan Karski.
Associated Press

It appears that one of the stories of the day in Washington has to do with President Obama misspeaking during yesterday’s Medal of Freedom ceremony, sparking complaints from officials in Poland.

The president was posthumously awarding the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Jan Karski, born Jan Kozielewski, a “Polish courier who was one of the first to alert President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Allied leaders to the killing of Jews in German-occupied Poland.” Obama noted he’d been smuggled into “the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”

That’s not what Polish officials wanted to hear – the correct phrase would have been “a death camp in Poland,” not “a Polish death camp.” The White House expressed “regret” for the “misstatement,” though some in Poland, including the Prime Minister, still want a “stronger, more pointed” response.

Obama’s detractors seem to be quite worked up about about this – a slow news day for the political world, I guess? – and the dividing lines already seem pretty clear. Those more sympathetic to the president see this as a harmless verbal mistake – the death camps really were in Poland, so the line was really about geography – while Obama’s critics are far less forgiving.

But what seems most interesting to me is an observation from Steve M., who discovered just how common an error this is, including references to “Polish death camps” from journalists at CNN, ABC, CBS, and the New York Times.

Also guilty of this have been Ha’aretz, USA Today, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Associated Press, The Buffalo News, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper and broadcaster CTV, The Toronto Star, and the British comedian Stephen Fry. And that’s just a list of people and organizations that have been reproached for it.

Oh, one more: Fox News.

Yes, it would have been better if the administration had avoided the gaffe, but it’s quite a common gaffe. 

Let those of us who have not made similar slip-ups cast the first stone.

 

Poland and Foreign Policy

A death camp in Poland, not a Polish death camp

Updated