Thursday's 9 AM EST edition of CNN Newsroom spotlighted how President Obama "called for promoting religious freedom – quote, 'a key part of U.S. foreign policy," at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, but glossed over his administration's controversial birth control/abortifacient mandate under ObamaCare, which is being challenged in an ongoing Supreme Court case. The cable network still stood out, however, as none of the Big Three networks aired reports on Obama's speech.
John King zeroed in on the President's "very moving tribute to the Americans held in prison in North Korea and in Iran because of their faith-based beliefs." Instead of mentioning the HHS mandate, anchor Carol Costello played up the Democrat's encounter with a conservative politician as a supposed glimmer of hope for bipartisanship: [MP3 audio available here; video below]
CAROL COSTELLO: Well, it was kind of nice to see the co-chair of this event was Congressman Louis Gohmert – Tea Party guy, right? He accused the President of stirring up racial tension not long ago, but he stood up and shook the President's hands – and, I don't know, maybe that's a sign of good things to come?
Minutes before the President addressed the prayer breakfast, correspondent Jim Acosta put his reporting on the chief executive's recent meeting with Senate Democrats on hold, and went out of the way to hype the possibility that might mention his upcoming trip to the Vatican, and his apparent common cause with Pope Francis:
COSTELLO: Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is standing by at the White House. Because the President had this big meeting with Senate Democrats the other day – what came out of that? You've been doing some digging.
JIM ACOSTA: I have been doing some digging. And just a quick note on the prayer breakfast: as you say, Carol, this is an opportunity for the President every year to talk about his faith. And I would be really surprised – just to briefly touch on that, Carol – if he does not talk about Pope Francis. The President is going to be traveling to Rome – the Vatican – on March 27 to meet with the Pope. And the President has talked about the Pope's attention to income inequality, which is also a goal of the President's – to tackle income inequality. So, the President may tip his hat to the Pope, but we'll have to wait and see in these remarks in just a few moments.
After the Democrat finished his speech, Costello turned to King and underlined how "everybody thought he would talk about income inequality and relate it to Pope Francis, but he talked a lot about religious freedom instead." She then asked the CNN journalist, "Does that surprise you?" King did briefly point out that the President "said he was looking forward to going to see Pope Francis," but soon added his "very moving" label to the politician's address:
JOHN KING: No, in the sense that the President...said at the beginning – you put partisanship aside; people of all faiths reflecting....He talked a bit about his efforts and other faith-based efforts to help the poor, and he said – you know, we have to heed the lesson of the scripture to always help he who has the least.
But you're right – very gently, very gently touching on anything that might be considered policy – and especially controversial policy from the President. Instead, most of it dedicated to religious freedom in places around the world where he says there is fighting – whether it's in Syria; whether it's in Central Africa – there's fighting based on faith differences. And then, in the end, I thought a very moving tribute to the Americans held in prison in North Korea and in Iran because of their faith-based beliefs. So a safe – safe ground for the President, I think, is the best way to put it, and a more reflective president, not – not a policy speech this morning.
Costello and King then touch on the Obama/Gohmert handshake, with the correspondent pointing out that some of the past prayer breakfasts have been more political:
KING: The President noted that he doesn't watch television, so...he has, perhaps, not witnessed and internalized many of Congressman Gohmert's more memorable moments on television or on the House floor. But, look, I'm laughing a bit, but that is the value of this event. If you go back through time, this event is often very low key. Presidents of both parties go in and share – you know, prayer and reflection and a breakfast with people of the other political party; with people of diverse faith; people of diverse organizations.
There have been times in our history when it's taken on a little bit more of a political impact. Bill Clinton, in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal – people wanted to know what he was going to say at this breakfast. Even the President today, Carol, talked about his time – how he was shaped by his church in Chicago. Remember back when he was running for president – Jeremiah Wright? That was – that was a big deal back then. But the President's in his second term. That, he believes, is in the rear-view mirror. This is a moment where – you know, you get to just have – shake hands with people who he might be fighting with in an hour or two.
Congressman Gohmert's a great individual to watch – and the people who share his views – as the immigration debate, for example, moves forward. Does a moment like that help a little bit? One can hope. It can't hurt. Look at it that way – that you break bread, shake hands, have a moment of peace with somebody with whom you have very, very many significant policy differences.
COSTELLO: All right. I will look at it that way. Thank you so much, John King.
Just over an hour later, the CNN anchor brought King back one more time to report on the President's speech, but again, the two ignored the domestic controversies surrounding ObamaCare and religious liberty:
COSTELLO: Well, John, the President called for promoting religious freedom – quote, 'a key part of U.S. foreign policy.' How does the White House champion that cause?
KING: Well, the Bae and the Abedini families – on this day, Carol – certainly will be grateful that the President turned the public spotlight on their family tragedies; their family stress; their family tensions, if you will, because they're so frustrated that it has been so long. But they also would hope – and you can see their frustration from time to time – that the administration could do more behind the scenes. Because when an American is being held overseas – whether it's for his religious beliefs or any other reason – it's usually the behind-the-scenes work – not a public appeal from the President at the National Prayer Breakfast – that will ultimately bring a resolution....
So, this is a constant in American diplomacy – promoting religious freedom abroad – and a safe spot, actually, for the President in that room today, because whether it's a Democratic president or a Republican president, it's a top priority for that administration at the moment. And you had a room full of faith leaders today – it's always a concern to them, because remember, when the government is not as high profile – often, it's churches and missionaries of all different faiths around the world who have to deal with these issues with international governments.