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Networks Tout Obama's Planned Summit With 'Very Similar' Pope; Ignore Dispute Over Religious Liberty

On Tuesday, ABC, CBS, and NBC's morning newscasts all hyped the White House's announcement that President Obama's would meet with Pope Francis in March, and emphasized their apparent agreement on economic issues. On CBS This Morning, Bill Plante touted the "chance for him [Obama] to align himself with the agenda of the very popular new pope, at a time when the President's own popularity here at home is at a low point."

ABC's Robin Roberts even asserted on Good Morning America that the two world leaders are "very similar." However, none of these morning shows reported that just a week earlier, the Pope's secretary of state "expressed [his] concern...for the healthcare reforms in relation to the guarantee of religious freedom and conscientious objection" during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. [MP3 audio available here; video clips below]

GMA was the first of the Big Three newscasts to report the breaking news. Anchor George Stephanopoulos underlined that "the President has talked so much about inequality – one of the big themes of the Pope's as well." Just before making her "very similar" claim about Obama and Pope Francis, Roberts pointed out her own recent meeting with the pontiff, and joked that "when I was there with the Pope, he gave me a heads up."

Ten minutes later, on NBC's Today, anchor Savannah Guthrie briefly mentioned the upcoming meeting: "We've got word just from the White House this morning that President Obama will travel to Europe in March, and he plans to visit with Pope Francis during that trip." However, the newscast goofed by running file footage of Francis's predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Substitute news anchor Willie Geist later gave a longer news brief about the planned summit, and followed Stephanopoulos's lead in playing up the two leaders' supposed similarities: "The White House announced this morning that President Obama will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican during an European trip in March. The statement says the President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality."

Plante led his short report with his "chance for him to align himself with the agenda of very popular new pope" line, and soon added that it was also a "chance to pair the President's own agenda on income inequality with that of the Pope, who's been very outspoken on the subject. In fact, the President has quoted the Pope on the subject as recently as last month. So, this is something for which the White House is very much planning and looking forward to."

It should be pointed out that another key issue where the Obama administration significantly differs with the current Pope is on the issue of abortion. The Bishop of Rome has condemned the murder of unborn babies on at least three separate occasions, including in the November 2013 document that many media outlets celebrated for its economic critiques. The Associated Press spun an earlier anti-abortion statement in September 2013 as an "olive branch" to the Catholic Church's "conservative wing." Reuters and CNN followed AP's example after the pontiff denounced abortion in January 2014.

The transcripts of the Robin Roberts/George Stephanopoulos segment from Tuesday's Good Morning America on ABC and the Bill Plante report from Tuesday's CBS This Morning:

01/21/2014
07:20 am EST
ABC – Good Morning America

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We just got a new story coming in right now. We just learned from the White House that President Obama is going to be going to Rome in March and meeting with the Pope. He's going to meet with Pope Francis on March 27. And, Robin, as you know, the President has talked so much about inequality – one of the big themes of the Pope's as well.

ROBIN ROBERTS: With the Pope as well. And when I was there with the Pope, he gave me a heads up that he was going to be talking- (Stephanopoulos, Roberts, and Ginger Zee all laugh)

STEPHANOPOULOS: He kept it quiet.

ROBERTS: But they are very similar.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is what we’re going to be talking about.


01/21/2014
08:06 am EST
CBS This Morning

CLARISSA WARD: This morning, the White House revealed details about an upcoming meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. The President will visit the Vatican on March 27.

Bill Plante at the White House with what to expect. Bill, good morning.

[CBS News Graphic: "The Pope And President: Obama To Meet With Francis In March"]

BILL PLANTE: Good morning, Clarissa, Charlie, Gayle. Well, this comes at a good time for the President. It's a chance for him to align himself with the agenda of the very popular new pope, at a time when the President's own popularity here at home is at a low point.

Now, the trip overall is part of regular meetings that the President has with world leaders – talks on nuclear security; a summit with leaders of the – Europe and leaders of NATO. But because he'll be in Europe, the White House jumped at the opportunity to stop at the Vatican and meet with Pope Francis. It's a chance to pair the President's own agenda on income inequality with that of the Pope, who's been very outspoken on the subject. In fact, the President has quoted the Pope on the subject as recently as last month. So, this is something for which the White House is very much planning and looking forward to. Charlie, Gayle, Clarissa?

GAYLE KING: Thank you, Bill Plante.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.