CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley scored an exclusive interview with Barack Obama on Friday. Much of the conversation centered around the President's meeting with Pope Francis. But rather than highlight the Pope's strong disagreements on issues like abortion, gay marriage and the contraception mandate in the health care law, Pelley appeared on CBS This Morning to wonder if the President, like Francis, wishes he could escape the "trappings" of power. [ MP3 audio here.]
Pelley explained, "It's well known here in Rome that sometimes the Pope slips those trappings, even gets in car, drives himself to another part of the city to help minister to the poor." The anchor added, "I asked the President about that and the fact that the President of the United States can't do the same thing. The President said that he was sure that the Pope had a lot more freedom but that he, the President, had only two and a half to go and he was sure that the Pope would be at this much, much longer."
What was missing from the report? Discussion of where the Pope and Obama disagreed. The Washington Times on Friday explained:
The pontiff and the president were cordial in the televised portions of their meeting, but a subtle competition to set the agenda played out after the meeting, which went well beyond its scheduled half-hour.
“We actually didn’t talk a whole lot about social schisms in my conversations with His Holiness,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference in Rome. “In fact, that really was not a topic of conversation.”
The Vatican, however, issued a statement after the meeting saying the president’s discussions with Francis and two other top Vatican officials focused “on questions of particular relevance for the [Catholic] Church in [the United States], such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection” — issues that have fueled divisions between Mr. Obama and the church.
Pelley hinted at this in his introduction, noting, "The President acknowledge that he has differences with Pope Francis, particularly over things like contraception and same-sex marriage." But that's the last CBS viewers heard of the subject.
It's quite possible that Pelley did ask about the disagreements, but it wasn't featured on This Morning. More will be aired on Friday night's Evening News.
On Thursday, reporter Bill Plante hyped the "personal common ground" between the two men, adding, "But while President Obama's approval numbers have dropped, Pope Francis's numbers continue to ascend, which is another reason this visit could be a boon for the American president."
A transcript of the March 28 segment is below:
CHARLIE ROSE: More now of the CBS interview with president Obama. He spoke with Scott Pelley one day after meeting with Pope Francis for the first time. Scott Pelley is with us once again from Vatican City. Good morning.
SCOTT PELLEY: Good morning, Charlie. The President acknowledge that he has differences with Pope Francis, particularly over things like contraception and same-sex marriage. But he said that he spent most of their almost one hour meeting talking things they had in common, in particular, income disparity and the Pope's message of helping lift the poor all around the world. Here's a little bit of the interview we did just a short time ago at the U.S. embassy. Can you give me a sense of what it's like to be in the presence of Pope Francis?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, he's a wonderful man. Obviously you get a very brief impression. We had a conversation of 45 minutes, although I've admired him from afar since, since he became Pope. I think he projects the kind of humility and kindness that is consistent with, my understanding of at least, of Jesus' teachings. He seems to have a good sense of humor. I think that his – his simplicity and his belief in the power of the spiritual over the material reflects itself in everything that he says and does. And I suspect – my sense is that he's a little bit uncomfortable with all the trappings of being Pope.
PELLEY: Embarrassed by them?
OBAMA: Well, you know, that – that's not his style, and that is part of why I think he has been so embraced around the world because people get a sense that first and foremost he sees himself as a priest and as a disciple of Christ and as somebody who is concerned with, you know, the least of these. You know, nothing's more powerful than someone who seems to live out their convictions.
PELLEY: You know, the President mentioned those trappings. It's well known here in Rome that sometimes the Pope slips those trappings, even gets in car, drives himself to another part of the city to help minister to the poor. When I asked the President about that and the fact that the President of the United States can't do the same thing, the President said that he was sure that the Pope had a lot more freedom but that he, the President, had only two and a half to go and he was sure that the Pope would be at this much, much longer. Charlie?
ROSE: Thank you so much, Scott. Here's a very interesting photo [Holds up Washington Post front page] from one of many around the world today showing a little bit of a nice moment between the President and the Pope. More of the interview tonight on the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley.