In journalism, some rules are pretty clear.
White House correspondents don't wave campaign signs for the president.
Sports journalists don't ask athletes for autographs.
And reporters aboard the papal plane don't gush over the pope, receive blessings from him and offer him gifts.
Oh, wait ...
Rosa Flores is a CNN correspondent covering Pope Francis' visit to Cuba and the United States. And she's downright giddy about meeting the pope — and receiving a blessing from him.
Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this on-air exchange between Flores and CNN anchor Poppy Harlow:
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Our Rosa Flores is live in Havana. She has the extraordinary job of flying with the pope from Rome to Havana. She will be with him on this entire trip.
Rosa, I have to begin as you tell me about this remarkable experience with showing everyone the photograph of the pope blessing you. What was it like?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was just such an incredible moment, Poppy. I really have no words to describe it other than he has just so much grace with people. We spent about 45 seconds together. We joked a little bit about actually a friend of his, a priest that I talked to before I got on the plane. And the priest told me, you know, "Give him a hug for me, Rosa. I didn't dare to hug a Holy Father. Let me just put it that way." But then the Holy Father goes on to tell me, Poppy, hear this. He says -- "This father, how dare he come to me two days before the conclave and ask me how I'm doing." He's like, who in their right mind would ask me that. Oh, with just such emotion, Poppy. Everybody around us. I can't wait to show you this video, because everybody just starts laughing. And then I had a tiny token, a small gift for the Holy Father. As you probably know, Mexican Catholics are very devout to Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I brought a little prayer for him, because, of course, I'm Mexican, Mexican-American. So you should see his face. As soon as he sees it, he grabs my prayer card from my hand, he starts kissing it. Oh, I almost went speechless, because I wanted to chat with him and I'm looking at the pope and he is just lighting up, looking at Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then, of course, I asked him for his blessing, and that's the picture that you were able to see.
HARLOW: It's amazing, Rosa. You said you were sitting sort in the back of the plane, so I'm interested in, did he just sort of walk to the back of the plane and say hello to all the journalists?
FLORES: It was remarkable. As soon as he got off the ground, you know, all the journalists were tweeting, sending our last photos because we know we're not going to have any Internet on the plane. Lo and behold we see Father Lombardi coming up and everybody starts just looking around. We see all of the photographers putting up their cameras and we're like, OK, the pope is definitely coming. Moments later, you see the pope come up after a brief introduction, he speaks to all of the journalists, greets everybody, and then goes aisle by aisle, Poppy, giving attention to every single journalist, allowing them to introduce themselves, give him little tokens of appreciation and just chatting with everybody. It was an incredible moment. He did a "u" shape around the entire back of the plane and then back in front where he sat for the rest of the flight.
To summarize: Flores' experience with Francis was so incredible. So amazing. So remarkable. (Quick, somebody grab a thesaurus so we can come up with more superlatives.)
But how's the CNN correspondent doing when it comes to journalism during this assignment?
In a note to GetReligion, a former Baptist newspaper editor asked:
So there's no need for even the pretense of objectivity when it comes to covering the pope? I know I'm a Baptist, and that makes me skittish about popery and such, but come on.
Come on, indeed.
I haven't followed all of Flores' reports -- or all of CNN's coverage, although I'm on record as being a big fan of Religion Editor Daniel Burke -- but I belong to the old school of journalism. In that school, journalists report the news as unbiased observers. They don't taint their coverage by becoming involved in the story or demonstrating bias (be it positive or negative).
I asked a respected Godbeat pro about Flores, and that journalist responded:
I really think there's some good hard-hitting GR to be done on whether the reporters are being unbiased. Did you see the Philly reporter swapped zuchettos with him? They are so star struck until they think about a "hard question" like ....sex abuse! Come on...
Come on, indeed:
As I was putting together this post, the Baptist reader I mentioned earlier sent me another email with the subject line "credit where it's due." That email included a link to legitimate journalistic questions Flores had asked of the pope:
OK, consider appropriate credit given.
But my larger concerns remain. If you're a part of the papal press contingent, be a journalist, not a starstruck fangirl (or fanboy).
I mean, come on ...
Religion-beat veterans! What were the ground rules when you covered papal tours?