Pope John Paul II needs better public-relations advice.
With the pope's visit this week, cable-news networks must
once again juggle images of faith with coverage of events that began with an illicit
A year ago, revelations about the sex life of President
Clinton sparked an exodus of anchors and a diversion of news resources from Cuba and the
story of the pope's historic visit to the communist country.
In an odd confluence of events, the Pope's first journey of
1999 brings him to St. Louis during the president's trial in the Senate.
"There will be tough decisions at all times,"
said Sid Bedingfield, executive vice president of CNN/US.
Cable News Network, MSNBC and Fox News Channel are devoting
significant resources to coverage of the St. Louis visit.
CNN European correspondent Jim Bitterman is traveling with
the pope, and coverage from St. Louis will be supplemented by Chicago bureau chief Jeff
Flock, among others. Sister networks CNN en Español and CNN International will also air
live reports, and they may be able to carry more extensive coverage at times.
MSNBC will go live Tuesday morning, as Chris Jansing -- who
will be the network's lead correspondent during the visit -- co-hosts Morning Line
from the Arch grounds. FNC will have two correspondents from Chicago and one from New
In addition to numerous live news reports, each network
plans extensive coverage from the TWA Dome Wednesday morning, where 90,000-plus are
expected to celebrate mass with the pope.
Luckily for news executives, the juggling should get a
little easier when the two stories collide early Tuesday afternoon at the airport in St.
Louis, as the president greets the pope when he arrives following several days in Mexico
Two networks providing extensive live coverage of the papal
visit may benefit from the news channels' divided attention: Eternal Word Television
Network, with access to 55 million households; and Odyssey Channel, with access to 30
For Jeff Weber, president of Odyssey Productions, the
"Trip to the Americas," as it is billed on his network, has no challengers for
top story. "There's no question in my mind where the nets' priorities are going to be
-- in Washington. We'll be sticking to our priority."
That means more than 20 hours of live programming from
Mexico City and St. Louis, special panels on core show News Odyssey and a number of
Another network that has covered the pope on his previous
visits to the United States won't be part of the crowd this time: C-SPAN, which wanted to
carry the arrival ceremony live, opted out less than a week before the visit.
"Unfortunately, the licensing fee was really high, and
there were restrictions on how many times we could air it," explained C-SPAN
spokesman Rich Fahle.