All three broadcast networks on Tuesday led their evening news programs with Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival at Andrews Air Force Base to begin his visit to the U.S., as well as his comments during a press conference on the plane about the priest sex abuse scandal. ABC’s "World News" and CBS’ "Evening News" especially focused on the scandal. In addition to this, "World News" also highlighted what the Pope said about illegal immigration during the press conference and gave a false impression of what the Pope had said on the issue.
ABC correspondent Dan Harris gave the following spin on Benedict XVI’s comments on immigration. "Also on the plane, the Pope addressed another hot issue, immigration. Hispanics are the fastest-growing part of the American church right now, and the Pope said he would discuss this issue with the President, particularly the 'dangerous' impact of families of illegal immigrants being separated."
The Pope did indeed mention this component to the issue. "I saw the scope of this problem, above all the grave problem of the separation of families. This is truly dangerous for the social, human and moral fabric of these countries." But he also stated in his answer to the question about immigration (which was asked by a reporter from Mexico) that the "fundamental solution [would be] that there is no longer any need to immigrate, that there are sufficient opportunities for work and a sufficient social fabric that no one any longer feels the need to immigrate.... On this point, I want to speak with the President, because above all the United States must help countries develop themselves. Doing so is in the interests of everyone, not just this country but the whole world, including the United States."
The Holy Father also acknowledged the generally-welcoming atmosphere towards immigrants in the U.S. "I’d like also to say that although there are many problems, so much suffering, there’s also much hospitality [in America]."
Earlier in the segment, Harris, after speaking of the Pope’s arrival and his greeting by President Bush and his family, went immediately to the sex abuse scandal. "Even before the Pope got here, speaking to reporters on the plane, he made his most extensive remarks to date on the priest sex abuse scandal.... He said church officials are visiting seminaries to weed out pedophiles.... At a press conference in Boston today, victims of priest abuse called the Pope's comments 'too little, too late.'"
Unlike many mainstream media news accounts of the Pope and the Catholic Church, which like to focus on political issues like abortion or homosexuality, Harris acknowledged in his report the religious/spiritual aspect to the Pope’s visit. "In the end, however, the Vatican does not want politics or pedophile priests to overshadow the main mission on this visit, to give the struggling American church a spiritual shot in the arm, by focusing on the core message that Christ is hope."
On CBS "Evening News," correspondent Byron Pitts also highlighted the sex abuse scandal. "At an arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base late this afternoon, the President and Mrs. Bush gave a warm welcome to Pope Benedict XVI. But even before landing, the Pope made headlines during his flight from Rome, talking about the church sex abuse scandal.... It's a crisis that's cost the Church nearly $2 billion in settlements and legal fees. There have been more than 5,000 alleged victims. Five diocese have gone bankrupt."
NBC’s "Nightly News" only mentioned the sex abuse scandal in passing, focusing instead on the many event that the Pope is planning to attend. "Meeting with journalists on the plane from Rome, Pope Benedict XVI called the sexual abuse scandal a great suffering, both for the church and for himself personally.... After a private meeting with the President and Mrs. Bush and a warm welcome from the crowd, the pontiff's motorcade sent off for the home of the Vatican ambassador to rest up for a busy week."
The full transcript of Dan Harris’ report from Tuesday’s "World News:"
CHARLIE GIBSON: Good evening. 'Il papas advenit' -- the Pope has arrived. That's rusty Latin. But Pope Benedict XVI arrived on American soil this afternoon. How significant is this six-day trip? Well, President Bush has never gone to Andrews Air Force Base to personally greet a visiting head of state. But he did today. And on the flight here, the Pope talked about the sexual abuse scandal. This is the first U.S. visit of a Pope since that scandal broke out. ABC's Dan Harris, tonight, is at Andrews Air Force Base. Dan?
DAN HARRIS: Charlie, good evening from in front of Shepherd one, which is what they call any plane that is carrying around the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics. Already on this trip, we've seen two very different sides of this Pope -- a serious side, as he discussed the priest sex abuse scandal -- and a rather chipper side, immediately upon arrival.
HARRIS (voice-over): Much is made of Pope Benedict's relative lack of charisma when compared to his magnetic predecessor, John Paul. But the crowd of 800 here at Andrews Air Force Base today roared as he stepped spryly off Shepherd One, the papal plane, in his bright red shoes, grinning and waving his arms. President Bush; his wife, Laura; and his daughter, Jenna; were there to meet him. Even before the Pope got here, speaking to reporters on the plane, he made his most extensive remarks to date on the priest sex abuse scandal.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible so that this cannot happen in the future.
HARRIS : He said church officials are visiting seminaries to weed out pedophiles.
BENEDICT XVI: Because it's more important to have good priests as to have many priests.
HARRIS : At a press conference in Boston today, victims of priest abuse called the Pope's comments 'too little, too late.'
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...He's not meeting with survivors, and sitting down and talking with us, and asking us what can be done. He should be ashamed.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you're ashamed about it, do something about it.
HARRIS: Also on the plane, the Pope addressed another hot issue, immigration. Hispanics are the fastest-growing part of the American church right now, and the Pope said he would discuss this issue with the President, particularly the 'dangerous' impact of families of illegal immigrants being separated. In the end, however, the Vatican does not want politics or pedophile priests to overshadow the main mission on this visit, to give the struggling American church a spiritual shot in the arm, by focusing on the core message that Christ is hope.
FATHER KEITH PECKLERS, PROF. OF THEOLOGY, PONTIFICAL LITURGICAL INST. IN ROME: So he's not coming in any way to scold or to try to change opinions, but to strengthen people in their lives and in their faith.
HARRIS: Today's crowd, at least, was receptive, singing the Pope 'Happy Birthday.' He will celebrate his 81st tomorrow at the White House.
HARRIS (on-camera): They are expecting 11,000 people tomorrow -- possibly the biggest White House event of the Bush presidency. Also coming up this week for the Pope, he will speak at the United Nations. He will visit Ground Zero. And he will celebrate Mass on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Charlie?
GIBSON: Dan Harris, reporting from Andrews Air Force Base.