May 21, 2024

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell was hoping to just get in a few questions with Pope Francis in a rare interview. The pope ended up giving her an hour in what proved to be a historic interview from the Vatican.

During an appearance on Monday’s “CBS Mornings,” O’Donnell said the network has been pursuing an interview with the pope for a decade. O’Donnell said, “As a journalist, this is the biggest interview I think I could get.” She added that it was the “interview of a lifetime.”

O’Donnell said their conversation, which was conducted with a Spanish-English translator, lasted an hour and no topic was off-limits — the two discussed war, immigration, climate change, the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases, same-sex relationships and many more topics. (Axios’ Rebecca Falconer has takeaways from the interview.)

“Quite frankly, we were stunned we got an hour with the pope,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said that in meeting Pope Francis, his warmth, intelligence and conviction came across.

“This is a different kind of pope,” O’Donnell said. “He’s the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, the first Jesuit. And he has been much more progressive and inclusive.”

Pope Francis talked about how U.S. conservative bishops have criticized  his progressive shift to Roman Catholic Church doctrine, saying the word “conservative” often means “one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

He then added, “It is a suicidal attitude. Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Part of the interview aired on Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” and most of it aired during a prime-time special on Monday night.

O’Donnell also asked the 87-year-old about media, and social media.

Pope Francis said there are some benefits to communication media because “they have a conscience — they know how to report the news and things, and they also know how to render criticism. And that is very good because that helps with development.”

However, Pope Francis continued, “There are communication media that alienate young people, don’t they? It makes them live in an unreal world, made up of fantasy, or in an aggressive world or a rosy world … and so many things.”

He then went on to say that all media have a responsibility to all people, saying, “A media outlet that only lives off propaganda — off gossip, off soiling others — is a dirty media outlet, and that soils the minds of the young and of the old as well.”

He asked, “Today, how many hours does a person spend in front of the TV or on their little phones? How many hours?”

Not up for debate?

We know there are at least two scheduled presidential debates between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — June 27 on CNN and Sept. 10 on ABC.

But Trump says he has agreed to two more debates. One would be on Fox News and the other on NBC.

Late last week, Trump posted on his Truth Social that he accepted an invitation to debate Biden on NBC and Telemundo, adding, “It is important as Republicans that we WIN with our Great Hispanic Community, who Biden has devastated with Crippling Inflation, High Gas Prices, Crime in our Streets, and Border Chaos.”

But don’t expect the other two debates to happen. It appears, for now, that the Biden team has settled on the original schedule of just two debates.

Semafor’s Max Tani reported that NBC had reached out to Biden’s camp last week. “But,” Tani wrote, “the network was slower than broadcast rivals CNN and ABC News, which within less than two hours had submitted formal requests that were accepted by both campaigns. One person familiar with the discussions told Semafor that the Biden team did not receive an offer from NBC until after the campaign had already agreed to debates with CNN and ABC, and that the offer was not as detailed as those submitted by CNN and ABC.”

This follows up reporting from Puck’s Dylan Byers in which an NBC News journalist told him that the network was “blindsided” to be left out of the debate schedule. There is still a chance, although likely a slim one, that Biden agrees to the NBC-Telemundo debate. Vice President Kamala Harris and the Trump camp have agreed to a vice presidential debate on CBS even though Trump has yet to name a running mate.

For what it’s worth, ABC and now CNN have both said they are willing to make the debates they are hosting available for other networks to simulcast.

A real mind-bend

At a recent forum hosted by The Ankler, which reports on the entertainment industry, editor-in-chief and CEO Janice Min interviewed former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Jen Psaki. Myers was the press secretary for Bill Clinton and Psaki was the press secretary for Joe Biden.

They discussed the latest presidential poll numbers, Donald Trump’s legal issues and the latest political news.

At one point, they talk about the job and the media with Min saying, “Dee Dee didn’t quite have the full right-wing machine to deal with that you did, Jen. You talk in the book about how Peter Doocy, son of ‘Fox and Friends’ (co-host) Steve Doocy, was a constant thorn in your side in the press room.”

Psaki, who now hosts her own show on MSNBC, said some decent things about Doocy but slammed Fox News in the process.

Psaki said, “People often ask me, ‘How much did you hate that guy?’ And I’m always like, ‘No, I didn’t hate him at all. I feel like it would be a real mind-bend to work for Fox. It feels like a traumatizing experience he has to live through every day. That aside, it’s quite predictable what they were going to ask — if there was a winding roundabout (on Fox News) of, you know, ‘migrants at the border, here to kill all of you,’ you knew they were going to ask about immigration that day. So I didn’t see it as necessarily winning the argument with him as much as using it as a forum to provide what our points were, right? When I came in, we followed Trump and an administration that was like, ‘Inject bleach, you’re all liars, we hate the media.’ So there was a very low bar for me.”

Stepping down

NBC News journalist Cynthia McFadden. (Courtesy: NBC News)

Veteran TV journalist Cynthia McFadden is stepping away from broadcast journalism. The former co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline,” McFadden most recently has been a part of the investigative unit at NBC News. She said on Instagram, “It is hard to leave a job you love but this is the right time — I have a list of things I have often said I wanted to do ‘someday’. Well, someday is now, while I am still raring to go — and playing with a relatively full deck. Maybe I’ll even surprise you (and myself!)”

McFadden, 67, took over as co-anchor for the legendary Ted Koppel on “Nightline” in 2005. She has been an NBC News for the past 10 years and did stories that took her from rural Mississippi to the Triangle of Death in Africa. (I interviewed McFadden in 2019 about her reporting from the Central African Republic.)

The last interview

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. The country’s foreign minister was also killed in the crash, which is being blamed on “technical failure.”

NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt went to Iran last September in what appears to be the final interview Raisi did in Iran with a U.S. network. (Here’s a transcript of that interview.)

The Associated Press’ Jon Gambrell wrote, “Raisi’s death, along with the foreign minister and other officials in a helicopter crash Sunday in northwestern Iran, came as Iran struggles with internal dissent and its relations with the wider world. A cleric first, Raisi once kissed the Quran, the Islamic holy book, before the United Nations and spoke more like a preacher than a statesman when addressing the world.”

Best in show

My colleague Roy Peter Clark, who has been teaching writing at Poynter since 1979, has a tradition of writing about the best ledes among the Pulitzer Prize winners. (Sorry, I still use the word “lede” even though Roy prefers and makes a strong case for “lead.”)

Anyway, his latest story about Pulitzer Prize openings has quite the lede itself: “Taken together, this year’s Pulitzer Prize stories were great. Their leads, not so much.”


Anyway, check out Roy’s entertaining read.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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