Pod people: Did you hear? There is a new pope!

You will be shocked, shocked, need I say SHOCKED to know that this week’s “Crossroads” podcast focuses on mainstream press coverage of the events before and after the election of Pope Francis as the new leader of of the world’s 1.2 billion (depending on how one does the counting) Catholics.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to cue that up and listen in.

If you followed our many posts on this topic over the past week or so, there is no way to pick one story or televised moment that sums up all of the good and the bad in the before, during and after coverage. No, no, let’s not talk about the on-air remark about Catholics in Latin American waiting for more than 20 centuries to have a pope they could call their own. Christopher Columbus, call your answering service.

The new pope gave the talking heads lots to talk about, with a series of simple, man-on-the-sidewalk level symbolic acts that were easy to describe and, in the age of cellphone cameras, show to viewers after the fact.

My favorite?

The “who’s that man in the white hat” photo of Pope Francis riding the bus to dinner with the other cardinals, rather than jumping in his own security-laden limo. There was another photo that looked like the pope may be walking around in black leather cross-training shoes, instead of liturgical red, which makes sense to me (with tendonitis in both knees) in light of the amount of time he’s spending on his feet right now. He keeps wearing white papal street clothes, instead of the formal options available to him. He stopped by this hostel to pay his own bill. He cold-called the local Jesuit leader. And so forth and so on.

But enough about that pope guy.

Much of the coverage, if you listened closely, centered on the journalists talking about their own impressions of the pope and their own impressions of the public’s first impressions of the pope and the public’s first reactions to the media’s first impressions of the public’s reaction to the media images of the pope. You get the idea.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I spent quite a bit of time watching CNN this past week, which is something I rarely do — even though I am old and have gray hair.

I know, when watching Fox and MSNBC, how to draw the lines between the rare news shows and the omnipresent opinion fests. But, to be honest, I still do not know what is going on in prime time on CNN.

Which brings me, again, to that amazing Erin Burnett moment. You know, this one:

… (In) her closing mini-sermon, she talked about her Catholic upbringing, but made it clear to all why she had left the fold.

She was raised Catholic, she stressed, using past tense. She was confirmed and took First Communion and keeps a photo of that younger version of herself on her desk. However, she added, “I do not practice now. I’m ecumenical. And I’m not alone.”

The key to the day, she made clear, was whether the new pope would be willing to change the church’s ancient doctrines on a litany of moral and social issues dear to her heart — all of them related to sexuality and gender.

Her benediction: “I bet that a lot of people might return to the church if it changed. After tonight’s celebrations are over, the big question will be whether Pope Francis will be that change.”

So, readers and listeners, help me out here. When you are watching her “Out Front” broadcasts, what are you supposed to be watching?

Is this a news show or a commentary show? There were times, when she was live and on the air, that she appeared to be reading news copy. There were times when she appeared to be attempting, through interviews, to contrast the views of doctrinally conservative Catholics with those of ex-Catholics and doctrinally liberal Catholics.

In other words, the structure of the show resembled news.

But then there were other times when Burnett would look right at her audience and, with her personality set on stun,  deliver highly personal and very divisive words of commentary (the kinds of things I have never said in one of my Scripps Howard News Service columns over the past 24-plus years, even though I write analysis pieces).

So what was she doing, a news show or a commentary show? I am asking this about her show, even though — as the podcast makes clear — this same tone bled into some other news products this past week. Help me out here. What was she doing?

And enjoy the podcast.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Patrick

    I take this to be a social media moment; it’s entirely outside the realm of the news-reporting of your 24 years, but it’s not awkward for modern viewers because we know the format – she’s reacting, Dear-Blog-Audience style, to the happening she is supposed to be disclosing to us, and we accept this because we accept the concept that a person’s reaction events is a consumable quantity – that a personality is a brand, and that this kind of televised bleating, supported with the right videography – is apropos. She’s not being a reporter, she’s a monologist in a show, wherein she plays (and rather badly) herself, a certain kind of woman who is giving us the news.

    I think this is where the future of news is headed; pretty Erin Burnett’s on every channel, telling us how they feel about what they think is happening.

    • Richard Mounts

      Patrick, if you’re right that this is the way of all newscasts of the future, then I’m glad I’m a sick, old man. Religion reporting is awful enough, and political reporting is close behind. If the rest of it all is rolling downhill right behind — good grief I’m about to turn into some sort of conspirtorial, apocalyptic, apoplectic, you-damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn crank! Maybe I’ll just be jaded, watch the Newshour and hope its slide doesn’t accelerate.

  • Julia

    John Allen deserves a Pulitzer and should be the model for reporting on religion. [My opinion]

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