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Richard Roth Covers the Pope

By admin Published: July 5, 2007

A good story from CBS, via Jim Romenesko's site. ...

On CBS's Public Eye, Richard Roth recalls following Pope John Paul II, and was asked about covering a religious leader as opposed to a political leader. His reply:

It’s funny you should ask, because I started covering the Pope back in 1981. And I’d only been there a few weeks when my foreign editor called and told me that martial law had just been declared in Poland and he said “Who’s the most famous Pole in Rome?” He woke me up to ask me this. I said “Peter, I’ve only been here a short time. I don’t really have all my sources down. I don’t know.” He said “Think, Richard. Who’s the most best-known Pole in Rome?” And I stumbled around and he said “Think religion.” And then I realized immediately that he meant the Pope. And he said “Go find out what he thinks about martial law in Poland.”

It just so happened that it was a Sunday, and on Sunday Pope John Paul II would make parish visits. He had a small security detail, but I had just come from Washington where I had covered the Reagan-Bush campaign and I was used to door-stepping people and just shouting at famous people. So that day I stood outside the church where the Pope was making his parish visit, and when he came out I shouted “Your holiness, what do you think of what’s happening in Poland?”

The crowd of parishioners and the Pope’s security detail were stunned. I don’t think they’d ever had a reporter shout a question at the Pope, let alone a question in English to the Polish Pope in Rome. And in fact, he stopped and talked to me for a moment. He expressed his sorrow at what was happening in Poland. I thanked him, and I rushed off and I [filed the story].

But I tried the same approach a few days later in an audience at the Vatican and he ignored me. I was then told by the security detail that if I tried that again, my Vatican press credentials would be pulled. So I realized that I had hit the limit of dealing with a religious figure of that stature as if he were a politician.

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