Confusion On TV As New Pope Selected

By Alex Weprin Comment

Breaking news is a tough business, and mistakes are commonplace as news unfolds on TV. Nonetheless, there were a handful of preventable errors that made it live this afternoon, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis.

CNN, for an extended period of time between 3:17 PM and 3:36 PM, said that Francis was the first non-European Pope, before correcting themselves around 4 PM. There have been a handful of non-European Popes, though none recently, and none from the Americas. As we noted earlier Fox Business Network mistakenly went with the “it is black smoke” angle, before quickly realizing that the smoke was in fact white. An incorrect chyron was on screen for about seven seconds. The other networks handled the confusion by putting up “placeholder” chyrons like “smoke rising from Sistine Chapel” before saying “white smoke rising from Sistine Chapel.”

There was also a massive failure from the English-language TV news media: According to TVEyes, Bergoglio was not mentioned by any U.S.TV outlets until today, when MSNBC noted that he placed second to Benedict in the last Conclave, and on CNN, with Chris Cuomo floating him as a candidate.

CNN’s senior Vatican Analyst John Allen proceeded to list all the reasons Bergoglio was unlikely to be selected as Pope. Allen appeared after the selection, where he noted that his speculation was off.

That said, CNN at least mentioned his name. NBC News, CBS News, ABC News and Fox News did not.

Update: Credit where it is due: TVEyes didn’t show it, but Fox News did mention Bergoglio as a candidate a few hours before the selection.

The Spanish-language networks, Univision and Telemundo, did mention Bergoglio however, and on a few occasions painted him as the leading contender from Latin America.

The takeaway: Papal predictions are a fools errand, and seem to be geographically biased. TV news loves predictions however, so expect just as much “analysis” the next time there is a Papal election.

NowThis News put together a mashup of all the (more understandable) white smoke/black smoke hoopla: