Pope Francis and the US media: Match made in heaven... or hell?

Pope Francis attends a ceremony inside the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. Pope Francis is on a five-day trip to the United States.  (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis attends a ceremony inside the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. Pope Francis is on a five-day trip to the United States. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)

In recent decades, our news media have approached global leaders of the Catholic Church in a very pragmatic way. When popes please the Left, they are wonderful evangelists for peace and justice. When they please conservatives, they are tone-deaf fanatics who need to get in touch with the modern world.  

But with Pope Francis, the media are trying a new model. Since his rhetorical tone seems to de-emphasize the “social issues” in favor of talking about the poor and the environment, he seems to be a refreshing contrast to Pope Benedict XVI and is almost uniformly lauded as a scold to the Right and an ally to the Left. 

The pope's visit to Washington drew exactly this kind of coverage. When he spoke at the White House, he plainly stated Catholics are "concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty,"adding "all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

It could be seen as a rebuke to Obama, like the Pope's unannounced visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, locked in litigation with the Obama administration over their religious rights. 

With Pope Francis, the media are trying a new model.

ABC, CBS, and NBC all skipped the quote. CBS never mentioned the concept of religious freedom. The others skimmed over it. ABC anchor David Muir summarized: “The Pope....speaking English on the south lawn of the White House, calling America a nation of immigrants, founded on religious freedom.” Terry Moran reported he was "defying critics on the right." He had none on the left?

Anne Thompson on NBC just reported “ The son of an immigrant family, he praised our nation’s immigrant roots, urged the protection of religious freedom and commended President Obama’s outreach to Cuba and action on climate change.” She then plucked this papal soundbite: “Climate change is a problem we can no longer be left to our future generations.”

Some even turned Pope Francis into a moderate on abortion. NBC's Chuck Todd came out of the papal address to Congress gushing “I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear the Pope give these words." Todd continued: "And maybe it changes the tone, even for a week, which could save us a sort of silly political fight in a week. These members of Congress needed to hear something like this."

This “silly fight” is over Planned Parenthood and their fetus-harvesting houses of horrors. One person on the face of this Earth who would not call this a “silly” fight would be Pope Francis. 

At least when he addressed Congress, CBS and NBC noticed he called for respect for life at every stage and in the words of Tom Brokaw, offered “no endorsement of same-sex marriage.” 

This reporting one side of the pope -- he's just concerned about climate and income inequality --  has gone on all year. NPR foreign correspondent Sylvia Poggioli welcomed in 2015 by reporting “The first pope from the global South has irritated some conservative Americans by criticizing laissez-faire capitalism and the ills of globalization.”

In June, Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty wrote a joyful blog post titled “Republican presidential hopefuls on the hot seat, thanks to Pope Francis; His encyclical on the environment is the latest of the pontiff's stands to be at odds with Republican dogma.”

On September 8, blabby MSNBC host Chris Matthews declared "The pope's leading something of a liberal crusade, you might also call it a crusade of compassion," hailing his (rather unsurprising) words about mercy for women confessing and regretting their abortions. This, he claimed, inflames conservatives. “They don't like it because they like the fire and brimstone. They like the terror of sin, that if you committed sin that you are -- it's so horrible and so evil that you can't even imagine it, and once you commit it, you're an outcast, therefore you will be less likely to become an outcast, which I think is crazy.”

On September 18, New York Times reporter Jim Yardley welcomed a “humbler papacy.” Francis is an “inscrutable tactician whose push to change the church has stirred anxiety and hope -- and some skepticism. Many conservatives project their fears onto him. Many liberals assume he is a kindred spirit.”

He added Francis was “projecting a merciful, welcoming tone in a church that had been shattered by clerical sexual abuse scandals and identified with theological rigidity.” (Please read: “shattered” by liberalk media deploring conservative Catholic “rigidity” with their fuddy-duddy opposition to late-term abortions and gay marriages in the shadow of the cross.)

The old line of deploring the pope for being out of line with modernity is fairly rare this year. Univision activist/anchor Jorge Ramos exemplifies that camp with a new column on “The Sinner Pope” Francis. “In spite of casting himself as a Pope open to change, Bergoglio refuses to allow women to practice the priesthood, refuses to lift the celibacy prohibition from priests, forcefully rejects gay marriage, abortion and doesn’t even approve of the use of contraceptives.”

The secular liberal media’s tacticians are not as inscrutable as Francis. Their reporting and editorializing suggests that they welcome a Catholic hierarchy that largely de-emphasizes the culture wars.... so that the Left can win them without much of a debate from church leaders. 

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center's Director of Media Analysis and co-author (with Brent Bozell) of "Collusion: How the Media Stole the 2012 Election and How to Stop Them From Doing It In 2016."