papal plane

Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Here is a rather simple test for reporters with experience on the religion beat.

In terms of Catholic tradition, which of the following two forms of communication by Pope Francis has the greater level of authority?

* A formal papal encyclical distributed by the Vatican.

* A comment made during an informal airplane press conference, as Shepherd One flies back to Rome after an overseas trip.

Like I said, it isn't a tough question if one knows anything about the papacy.

Ah, but how about the content of an off-the-cuff Pope Francis one-liner about abortion, "culture wars" and politics? Do those words have more authority, less authority or the same level of authority as a a papal address, using a carefully prepared manuscript, delivered to an Italian conference for Catholic doctors focusing on the sanctity of human life?

That's a tougher one. I would argue that the papal address had more authority than the one-liner. However, if one uses an online search engine to explore press coverage of these kinds of issues -- in terms of gallons of digital ink -- you'll quickly learn that I am part of a small minority on that matter.

Now, I was talking about religion-beat pros. What happens when political editors and reporters try to handle issues of papal authority, when covering tensions and changes in today's Catholic church? Frankly, I think things get screwed up more often than not under those circumstances. But, well, who am I to judge?

If consistent, logical, dare I say "accurate" answers to these kinds of journalistic questions are important to you, then you need to read a new essay -- "Pope Francis and the media’s ongoing fallibility" -- posted by The Media Project. The author is veteran New York City journalist Clemente Lisi, who is now my colleague on the journalism faculty at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

Here's some material gathered from the top of this piece:

Did you hear what Pope Francis said about (fill in the blank)? ...

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From our 'No comment' department: This is sort of a journalism Marx Brothers joke

From our 'No comment' department: This is sort of a journalism Marx Brothers joke

You cannot make this one up.

I think we have to rank this one right up there in the top ranks of items that we have ever featured under the heading "From our 'No Comment' department."

Let's see if you can spot the error in the top of this Associated Press report, as it ran earlier today. It has since been corrected.

Note that the dateline is from an always-exciting location during the Pope Francis era, when it comes to breaking stories on the Godbeat. Yes, I know there was a post earlier on a story linked to this. Thus, please consider this a quick mini-update on that  post by our own James Davis.

Here goes.

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) -- Pope Francis says gays -- and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited -- deserve an apology.
Francis was asked Sunday en route home from Armenia if he agreed with one of his top advisers, German Cardinal Karl Marx, who told a conference in Dublin in the days after the deadly Orlando gay club attack that the church owes an apology to gays for having marginalized them.

Oh my.

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Reporter does it all: gushes over Francis, receives blessing, covers papal trip for CNN

Reporter does it all: gushes over Francis, receives blessing, covers papal trip for CNN

In journalism, some rules are pretty clear.

White House correspondents don't wave campaign signs for the president.

Sports journalists don't ask athletes for autographs.

And reporters aboard the papal plane don't gush over the pope, receive blessings from him and offer him gifts.

Oh, wait ...

Rosa Flores is a CNN correspondent covering Pope Francis' visit to Cuba and the United States. And she's downright giddy about meeting the pope — and receiving a blessing from him.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this on-air exchange between Flores and CNN anchor Poppy Harlow: 

From a transcript of that conversation:

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Our Rosa Flores is live in Havana. She has the extraordinary job of flying with the pope from Rome to Havana. She will be with him on this entire trip. 

Rosa, I have to begin as you tell me about this remarkable experience with showing everyone the photograph of the pope blessing you. What was it like?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was just such an incredible moment, Poppy. I really have no words to describe it other than he has just so much grace with people. We spent about 45 seconds together. We joked a little bit about actually a friend of his, a priest that I talked to before I got on the plane. And the priest told me, you know, "Give him a hug for me, Rosa. I didn't dare to hug a Holy Father. Let me just put it that way." But then the Holy Father goes on to tell me, Poppy, hear this. He says -- "This father, how dare he come to me two days before the conclave and ask me how I'm doing." He's like, who in their right mind would ask me that. Oh, with just such emotion, Poppy. Everybody around us. I can't wait to show you this video, because everybody just starts laughing. And then I had a tiny token, a small gift for the Holy Father. As you probably know, Mexican Catholics are very devout to Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I brought a little prayer for him, because, of course, I'm Mexican, Mexican-American. So you should see his face. As soon as he sees it, he grabs my prayer card from my hand, he starts kissing it. Oh, I almost went speechless, because I wanted to chat with him and I'm looking at the pope and he is just lighting up, looking at Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then, of course, I asked him for his blessing, and that's the picture that you were able to see. 

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