In the litany of network news coverage Thursday night on Pope Francis’s address to Congress, ABC’s World News Tonight largely stayed away from the Pope’s comments about abortion and traditional marriage by relegating them to vague references while CBS and NBC did their due diligence and mentioned them amidst their continued obsession over the Pope’s liberal positions.
During a mangled newscast where anchor David Muir paused to bring in the entire country for an ABC News Special Report on the Pope’s parade down New York’s 5th Avenue and arrival at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Muir and chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran finally turned to the Pope’s address at the 6:50 p.m. mark.
Moran made no references to Francis discussing life or marriage, so the two passing mentions fell to Muir, who declared in the first instance that “the applause at times [was] very divided” as Francis spoke “in English for nearly an hour, tackling immigration, abortion, climate change, and the death penalty.”
Conversing with Moran after the correspondent’s summary of the address, Muir observed:
[I]t's hard to imagine another leader being able to walk into that chamber, tackle such issues, you know, immigration, all the way to the death penalty, abortion, climate change, in front of such a polarized Congress and yet, he seems to do this all with a smile.
On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley ruled that Francis “scolded the lawmakers and they loved it” while congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes reported that the Pontiff implored lawmakers “to reject what he called a mindset of hostility when it comes to illegal immigrants and refugees.”
In addition, Cordes hyped that Francis “called on Congress to combat climate change, an issue dear to many Democrats.”
Turning to “social issues,” however, Cordes played two soundbites of Francis on life and marriage, pointing out that “he seemed to be referring to same-sex marriage when he said this”: “Fundamental relations are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”
Offering the most coverage on the Pope’s address was the 7:00 p.m. Eastern edition of NBC Nightly News with two segments plus a brief on the matter. On the Pope’s remarks, former anchor Tom Brokaw told viewers that it “had something for everyone” in “the kind of performance that presidents and would-be presidents would envy.”
Often seeking to put the speech in context, Brokaw opined:
Pope Francis went before Congress not as a Republican or Democrat, not as an independent or tea party member, but as a moral authority, the vicor of Christ. In our season of discontent, when division riles the political landscape, and desperate immigrants flee war and deprivation fill the screens, he brought powerful challenges to America's moral authority.
After noting that Congress “listened respectfully as Francis turned to global warming,” Brokaw added how the Pope addressed income inequality “and just when congressional conservatives may have thought there was nothing for them, the family, and by extension, no endorsement of same-sex marriage.”
Before turning back to Holt and a brief on Speaker John Boehner’s repeated crying over the course of the vent, Brokaw concluded:
The Pontiff also called for an end to the world arms race which fueled so many wars, but it will be his global warming and poverty themes, his defense of traditional marriage that will get the most attention. He may not have changed many minds in Congress, but for others trying to decide on these issues, Pope Francis may have moved some to his side. We'll see if the presidential candidates want to differ with him.
Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd was given an abbreviated opportunity to chime in with his thoughts during which he stated, in part, that “it wasn't your typical partisan reaction” because many lawmakers “were personally very moved and I saw many conservative and liberal lawmakers alike and that, to me, was the most powerful message that perhaps this body actually heard.”