Last week, The Daily Show ran a segment about media coverage of the selection of the new pope (which you can see here, it’s the one called “Ratz!”). It provides a staggeringly emblematic example of what’s wrong with the media today.
As we all know, the magic Vatican chimney would be the signal to alert the public that the papal selection had been made. Black smoke would mean “not yet”, and white smoke would mean “we’ve got one.”
The Daily Show showed a montage of the way that the 24-hour news stations covered the pivotal moment when the chimney began releasing the white smoke. To paraphrase:
Fox News: Vatican radio says it’s black smoke… a lot of confusion… it’s looking white, now.
CNN: Black smoke, yet again… we’re not absolutely positive…
MSNBC: This is a tough call… that looks darker now…
Okay, the smoke is fucking white. No debate, no “shades of grey”, it was white fucking smoke coming out of this chimney. The news anchors saw it with their own eyes, and the audience saw it with their own eyes. And yet all of these news stations seemed either reluctant to acknowledge this information, or were outright in denial.
I understand not wanting to be the first person on international television to declare that a new pope has been selected and then find out that you’re wrong. But Jesus, how hard would it be to say “the smoke appears to be white, which means that the Vatican has selected a new pope, and we are now contacting the Vatican for confirmation”? You’ve described what’s in front of your face, and you’re working on making sure that the white smoke wasn’t a blooper or anything.
This footage shows us thee glaring examples of common news incompetence:
1) Reporter sees something with his own eyes, tells audience the exact opposite.
2) Reporter sees something with her own eyes, tells audience that facts are “unclear”.
3) Reporter sees something with his own eyes, and refuses to tell the audience that he saw it until he’s received a press release telling him what he saw.
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