Pope: On FNC, Shep Smith Declares Pope Dead — Then Retracts It

By Brian 

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Early this afternoon, Fox News prematurely pronounced the Pope dead. “At 1:23 p.m., Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith reported that the pope had died. At least initially, he did not cite sources,” the AP reports.

FNC viewers could hear a producer yelling “the Pope is dead.” (Side note: Who was the producer?? Shep then tossed to a correspondent in Rome, who said the reports were not confirmed. Here is the Fox video (6mb WMV). Shep’s comments are transcribed, after the jump.

An MSNBCer called it a “marvelous indication of the danger of reporting others’ material.” CNN relayed an Italian news agency report that the Pope had died, but they stressed that it had not been verified. FNC announced the news — Pope Dead — without attribution initially. “CNN reported that Reuters was reporting that Italian media was reporting that the Pope had died,” an e-mailer says. “Jim Bittermann reiterated that it was unconfirmed information, and urged caution.” “We have to be very careful,” a CNN analysis warned. MSNBC did not mention the unconfirmed reports.

At one point, Shep observed a moment of silence. Later in the hour, the Vatican issued a statement denying the reports. On FNC, Shep issued a retraction and an apology. “His excuse was in this lightning-fast news cycle soemtimes we get ahead of ourselves,” an e-mailer says. FNC changed their graphics: “Vatican sources: brain, heart still functioning.”

“We were all disgusted at how wrong FNC was on such a major story,” an NBCer says. “I guess that’s what separates the cable stations from the network.”

> Update: 5:45pm: “If anyone should be blamed, it is the producer or voice who yelled ‘Pope is dead’ in Shep Smith’s ear,” an e-mailer says. “To condemn Smith or the entire network amidst confusion looks more to me like an excuse to gang up on FNC…Let’s be fair here.”

> Update: 5:51pm: Read the transcript of Shep Smith’s remarks, after the jump..

Shep (1:29-1:31 PM):

“But not, Greg, a sense of dread for Pope John Paul II. And I think that’s part of the message of this day from everyone who has known John Paul at any time of his life, especially in recent months, has been perfectly clear that this was not a day of dread for the Pope and the Pope made it perfectly clear and tried to teach that this should not be a day of dread for any of us. That this is a day where life continues — a transitional day, a day to celebrate, an extraordinary life in the pope’s case. And a day of difficult transition, no doubt, as was just experienced on this news channel. We were listening to our sister network Sky Italia. We were talking about a few moments ago about how much has changed in the past 26 years since Pope John Paul I had died. On the day that Pope John Paul I died, there were no pagers, there were no cell phones, there were no blackberries, there was no internet, there was no way of instant communication. As a result, people were not able to gather in St. Peter’s Square as they have today in such a timely fashion. This was a time when and all points prior we waited for smoke to rise and shutters to close. Today we were listening to Sky Italia as a producer in the background, speaking in English, watched as the vital signs of Pope John Paul II had gone to flat. Or that was our understanding-very difficult. Fox News has not yet confirmed these Italian reports. But it was quite clear what the Italian media was learning. And that was, according to their reports, that the EKG, which monitors the vital signs of Pope John Paul II, had gone flat. Now our understanding of things prior today were that Pope John Paul II’s health failing, should his kidney and heart and organs be failing him that, that in fact that will allow him to slip away. And now the bells toll in Saint Peter’s.”
Shep continues: “There is little doubt, little doubt, that the church has been preparing faithful for an announcement of the death of John Paul. That goes without saying. The exact time of death, I think is not something that matters so much at this moment for we will be reliving John Paul’s life for many days and weeks and even years and decades and centuries to come.”

Viewers who may be just tuning in may see at the bottom of the screen that Italian news says that Pope John Paul II has died.  The Vatican has not made an official announcement of such thing. You plan for days like these as the Vatican has for many centuries and as a young news organization has for many years quite frankly. You must prepare for all happenings, all major happenings on the planet and this is one for which we have planned. I’m sure the Vatican is dealing with things they could never have thought of just as I’m dealing with never having to think of a young producer screaming the pope has died, the pope has died.  Our technology, we certainly get ahead of ourselves sometimes.


Shep: “I should let the people watching know, Vatican sources are telling Reuters television news service that the Pope’s brain and heart are still functioning and as we are wanting to do in this lightening fast 24-hour news world, somebody along the way and myself included, has apparently gotten ahead of ourselves.  And the shudders are open and the Pope is by all accounts now alive.  We are in the final moments — there is certainly no question but what better time than this to reflect on that legacy.”

1:57PM -Apology

“I want to take you back to what happened here a little while ago.  As way of explanation, I am very sorry, which is all I can say except that we were listening to Italian television. Our larger corporation owns news services all over the country and all over the world. Among them is Sky Italia. Sky news, we have them in London and here we have Fox News. Over there w have Sky in Italy. And Sky Italy had a producer who was listening to words coming from the press office of the Vatican and you heard the word that was given. Well the word was inaccurate.  And unfortunately the same word was transferred here. We now know that Vatican has denied the reports that John Paul II died. I can tell you that the Vatican has been preparing the faithful for his passing for at least 24 hours and certainly the end is near. There is no mistaking that.”