The news on Wednesday that the Catholic Church had elected a new pope was treated with an unsurprising amount of excitement from the media.
Thousands of outlets had already descended on the Vatican in the days leading up to the selection, with "smoke-watch" cameras set up to track every moment of the fateful Sistine Chapel chimney that signalled the arrival of a new church leader. Cable news networks spent most of Wednesday stuck firmly on St. Peter's Square, flitting briefly to other stories. There was a palpable sense of anticipation; at one point, CNN ran the chyron "SMOKE COULD COME THIS HOUR" for three straight hours.
When the white smoke finally billowed out of the chimney just a little after 7 PM, all broadcast and cable networks carried it live, with wall-to-wall coverage reminiscent only of a rare number of events, like a presidential election or a royal wedding. Anchors had a bit of trouble figuring out right away whether or not the smoke was actually white. On CNN, Chris Cuomo threw up his hands for a second, saying, "we're going to be transparent about it: we don't know." On Fox News, Megyn Kelly hedged, saying, "it appears gray ... it is whitish..."
The next revelation — that the Pope was Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and that he was taking the name Francis — was greeted with equal excitement. "The curtain is moving," someone on CNN could be heard to say. "The curtain is moving!"
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