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MediaWatch: October 1995

Vol. Nine No. 10

Reporters Love Pontiff's Message for the Poor, Not the Unborn

Claiming a Piece of the Pope

Before Pope John Paul II landed in the United States, Washington Post Style writer Henry Allen suggested millions of American Catholics think he "speaks with the voice of a conservative crank when he stonewalls on abortion" and other Church doctrines. But when the Pope called on America to do more for the poor, reporters turned him into a star witness against the Republican Congress.

Robert McFadden covered the Pope's arrival for the October 5 New York Times: "Without naming names, or even mentioning the Republican-dominated Congress, the Pope also seemed to admonish the supporters of proposed laws to restrict immigration and dismantle many of the nation's programs for the poor. In doing so, he appeared to echo many of President Clinton's warnings."

The next day, after the Pope called legal abortion a "moral blight" on America, Times reporter Celestine Bohlen pronounced: "Though he mentioned the rights of the `unborn child' at Giants Stadium last night, his most striking statements...have been warnings against what he perceives as a rising movement to limit immigration, reduce subsidies for the poor and weak, and retreat to an isolationist position."

The same spin made its way onto television. On Good Morning America October 6, ABC reporter Bill Blakemore proclaimed: "He's striking a theme that runs directly counter to Republican plans to limit welfare programs for the poor."

On October 10, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff asked Pat Buchanan on Inside Politics: "How do you as a Catholic reconcile that with what your own party has done this year and is talking of doing with regard to cutting back programs for the poor in this country?" Neither ABC nor CNN asked Democrats how the Pope's pro-life message reconciled with their pro-abortion position.

NBC's appointed papal expert in three morning interviews, Andrew Greeley, a millionaire priest and author of sexually explicit novels, told Today co-host Giselle Fernandez on October 7: "The Pope has come to the United States when it's in a very mean-spirited period when it's bashing immigrants, bashing poor people, bashing minorities. And the Pope has come to say `Hey, stop that!' He isn't talking about specific legislative measures but he's certainly addressing himself to the spirit that elected and sustains the Gingrich-Dole Congress."

But when asked about Catholic reaction to the Pope's authority on sexual matters, Greeley replied: "Where they think the Pope really doesn't understand, they reserve the right to follow their own consciences and appeal to a God who does understand."