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BROOKE: From WNYC in New York this is On the Media, I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB: And I’m Bob Garfield.
[Up and under with the Congressional cryer announcing the Pope]
BOB: Pope Francis arrived in the nation’s capital this week, only the third pontiff in history to do so. He bore a message of peace, refuge, compassion and the sanctity of life for ourselves and our very planet.
POPE FRANCIS: Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.
BOB: So naturally, in the comprehensive coverage of his historic visit, he was widely treated as just the latest larger-than-life character adding his two cents to the three-penny opera..
NEWSCASTER: Is the most important player in the 2016 election about to touch down in America? Pope Francis is headed to the United States. Is he headed on a collision course with Donald Trump?
NEWSCASTER:Who’s got it right: The Donald or The Pope?
CNN: Donald Trump! He has a message for the pope.
TRUMP: “I’d say ISIS wants to get you.”
BOB: Even the nominally analytic coverage tended to characterize Francis as a politician in a skullcap. Not only were his teachings on moral obligation toward the welfare of humanity treated as partisan rhetoric, they were framed as if Francis were a candidate himself, courting the US electorate.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: 58% of Ohio voters are with the pope, 59% of Florida voters say the same…
NEWSCASTER: Republicans think they have an ally in the pope because of abortion. And in fact, the day that he lands….
EVA PILGRIM: New approval ratings out for the pope...and they aren’t so good.
BOB: Approval ratings? It seems not to have occurred to ABC’s Eva Pilgrim that a pope has bigger fish to fry. As the Atlantic’s Emma Green put it in her essay this week: “The Pope doesn’t care.” He is not Carly Fiorina or Bernie Sanders. He won the only election he ever needed. White smoke was issued. He is most likely not watching the polls.
Nor choosing sides in domestic American politics. If you were grading the Pope on policy issues the way advocacy organizations rate candidates on their issues, you might indeed conclude that the world’s most influential pro-lifer is a godsend for the staunchly anti-abortion majority of GOP. Yet conservative media universally denounced Francis as a Trojan horse for Commie poison.
LIMBAUGH: What this is...this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.
NAPOLITANO: Am I going to applaud when some left-wing nonsense about the economy comes across as if it’s Catholic dogma? How could anyone applaud to that?
NEWSCASTER: This pope is a world government promoting, anti-gun, global government, carbon tax guy. And it’s sick.
NEWSCASTER: The same people who gave us Obama gave us this pope.”
BOB: And this, from Stuart Varney of Fox Business:
VARNEY: I don’t think Christian people, ministers, popes, priests, whatever, I don’t think they should be preaching politics from the pulpit. I don’t think religious leaders should be involved in politics at all.
BOB: Stuart, I swear I’ve never used this expression before in my life, but for God’s sake, get over yourself. Maybe you see the world as an eternal battle for House seats, but that doesn’t mean Pope Francis does. You’re projecting. Dude, this isn’t about you.
The problem, of course, isn’t that political pundits are hammers that think everything is a nail. And the problem certainly isn’t that The Pope is going all George McGovern on us. The problem is that in our hyperpoliticized media culture, nothing in the world is immune from partisanship and polemic. Not atmospheric crisis. Not evolution. Not vaccination. Not economic history. Not even hunger. What should the leader of the Church talk about then? Deflategate?
Which brings us, as it often does, to a moment of sanity from the Fox News Channel’s Shepherd Smith.
SMITH: Caring for the marginalized and the poor -- that's now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that's political? I mean, I don't know what we expect to hear from an organization's leader like the Pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don't have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus.
BOB: Sorry, Shep. In in a nation that treats elections like seasons of Survivor, there’s no room for highest aspirations. Just the lowest common denominator, fed with the dramaturgy of conflict. Hero or villain, compatriot or nemesis, maverick or team player. Will Pope Francis get an audience with Sheldon Adelson? How will he go over with Big Labor?
The Bible of Jesus? Seriously? Francis is headed for Pennsylvania, my friend. And that’s a swing state.