Can you have a meeting of minds when you don’t agree on what you discussed — and neither do news media?
President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday, nearly all of it behind closed doors. And their post-meeting statements were so different, they were the focus of some media reports — though the reports themselves didn’t always match.
Here’s a close look at the mismatch between media from different U.S. coasts: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle.
The habitually pro-Barack CNN produced friendly coverage, starting with the traditional exchange of gifts between the heads of state. In the short video clip, above, clicking cameras drowned out nearly everything except “It’s a great honor” and “I’m a great admirer.”
The network also seemed to soft-pedal disagreements in saying the president and the Vatican had “slightly different takes on the tenor of their discussions.” Yet it did show how different the takes were:
“… (I)t was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the Vatican said in a statement. “In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection. …”
Obama, in a news conference that followed, told reporters that such issues were “not a topic of conversation” with the Pope and instead were discussed with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
Whoa. The Vatican and the White House disagreed on what they disagreed on? Good time for follow-up questions. Why weren’t there any?
The CNN report also said where the two sides agreed:
According to the Vatican, the two men also discussed the issue of immigration reform and “stated their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.”
On this point, the President and the Pope were simpatico.
“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.
Ghost alert, BTW: The CNN writer — and whoever edited his work — apparently missed where Obama got the phrase “the least of these.” It’s from Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the needy: “Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”
CNN then obediently quoted Obama on his newest campaign, “income inequality”:
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Obama pointed to the Pope’s concern for income inequality, saying, “Given his great moral authority, when the Pope speaks it carries enormous weight.”
Continuing to focus on income inequality, Obama said, “And it isn’t just an economic issue, it’s a moral issue. I think the Pope was speaking to the danger that over time we grow accustomed to this kind of inequality and accept it as normal. But we can’t.”
The San Francisco Chronicle, however, wasn’t so easily convinced. In its own story, the Chronicle said the Vatican “left out any reference to inequality issues in its description of the meeting.”
The newspaper also presented the disagreement more starkly, right from the first two paragraphs:
Face to face for the first time, President Barack Obama and Pope Francis focused publicly on their mutual respect and shared concern for the poor on Thursday. But their lengthy private discussion also highlighted the deep differences between the White House and the Catholic Church on abortion and birth control.
The gaps were evident in the differing accounts Obama and the Vatican gave of the meeting, with Obama stressing the two leaders’ common ground on fighting inequality and poverty while Vatican officials emphasized the importance to the church of “rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection.” That point by church officials referred to a major disagreement over a provision of Obama’s health care law.
The two news outfits disagreed even on what was important in the topics. CNN said Francis and Obama largely agreed on poverty, immigration and human trafficking. The Chronicle agreed that poverty was discussed, but didn’t mention the other two topics.
Both reports have considerable file material on rifts between the White House and the Church over Obamacare and its mandate to include contraceptives in health insurance, plus the current test of the mandate being judged at the Supreme Court. And both stories mercifully didn’t call it the “Hobby Lobby case.”
A point for CNN: It quoted American Catholic leaders, both inside and outside formal church structure. The Chronicle’s only outside quote came from John Kerry.
One big difference was how the two media described Francis’ popularity — and how Obama, whose approval ratings have slipped since 2012, would like to borrow some of it. The Chronicle spent four sentences on the matter. For CNN, it was five paragraphs.
If nothing else, yesterday’s tale at the Vatican shows the need to compare and contrast media reports. Nobody sees everything clearly. They don’t even always look at the same things.