The Vatican Does Not Have a Good Relationship With the American Media

December 02, 2021

The Vatican’s tightly framed media coverage of Pope Francis’s audience given to President Joe Biden prompted protests from the American press and the White House, who would have liked to otherwise exploit the event. Behind the scenes, the abortion issue remains very sensitive in the United States.

Joe Biden's first visit as President of the United States to Pope Francis will undoubtedly be remembered by the American media.

Indeed, journalists traveling with the president did not have access to the heart of the event, as they were prevented from covering live the initial handshake and the first moments of the meeting between the two heads of state.

On the Vatican side, they explained that the rule is the same for everyone, American journalists and Vaticanists from Rome or elsewhere: no one can film the first minutes of meetings between the Holy Father and his august visitors, Covid-19 protocol obliges. At least, officially.

The ban on covering these precious moments in order to “gauge” the atmosphere between the pope and his guest, invoked a reaction from the Association of White House Correspondents, who were indignant, as the Vaticanists have been for several months, about not being able to do their work normally.

“Journalists have been covering the papal audiences of US presidents since Woodrow Wilson met Benedict XV in January 1919,” CBS News Radio correspondent Steven Portnoy responded on Twitter.

"Our team of journalists, all vaccinated and masked, is however quite capable of fulfilling its mission, which is to ensure independent coverage of the meeting between the first Catholic president for 60 years, and the head of the Catholic Church,” he added.

A reaction that appears to have resonated behind the White House gates, as presidential press secretary Jen Psaki also addressed the Vatican media restrictions during a press briefing.

“What I can assure you is that we are working, through all the means at our disposal, to obtain press access to the Vatican,” she declared during the days leading up to Joe Biden's arrival at the Apostolic Palace.

She added, “We believe in the value of the free press. We believe in the importance of ensuring that you have access to the President's travel and visits abroad.”

Finally, according to information relayed by the newspaper La Croix, Anthony Blinken, the American Secretary of State himself was moved by the situation: picking up his phone on October 28, the day before the papal hearing, he asked to talk to his Roman counterpart, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

But the Vatican number two man turned a deaf ear: the rule is the same for everyone, in essence the cardinal told the American diplomat.

The next day, after the 83 cars entered the Vatican, including two armored limousines, constituting the presidential procession, the Secretary of State provided the press with a handful of photos of the visit and a fairly extensively edited video of Joe Biden and the first lady: a meager consolation prize.

Anthony Burr, expert in public relations and media, and founder of Burr Media, gave his analysis to Newsweek, the day after the state visit: “the Vatican seems to have taken the opportunity to ‘manage’ the visit under the pretext of the health protocol put in place since the beginning of 2020.”

And he asks: “Is this censorship related to the issue of abortion? Very probably. Biden's support for the right to abortion contrasts sharply with the attitude of Pope Francis who continues to embrace the Catholic Church's opposition to what is considered to be murder.

“The live broadcasts always capture every nuance, whether it's commentary or body language, so by preventing the media from having live coverage, the Vatican can control the narrative as it pleases.”