Before the pope's plane - dubbed "Shepherd One" - touched down at Andrews Air Force Base on April 15, the news media portrayed Pope Benedict XVI as a largely unknown religious figure about to introduce himself to American Catholics still recovering from the clergy sex abuse scandal.
By the time he left, the relationship between the relatively new pope and the hurting U.S. church was the primary story line in the mainstream news media's coverage of the pontiff's visit.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Project for Excellence in Journalism have studied the news coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States, focusing on the week of April 14-20. The three major findings are:
- The media devoted significant amounts of time and space to the story. All told, the pope's visit accounted for 16% of the overall "newshole," the time or space available in an outlet for news content, during the week of April 14-20. In the first four months of 2008, the only stories that received more coverage during a single week were the presidential campaign, the troubled U.S. economy and the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal.
- Two story lines dominated the coverage. Out of all the newshole dedicated to the pope's visit, more than half (54%) was comprised of stories that focused on the impact of the clergy sex abuse scandal (37%) or on the relationship between Pope Benedict and American Catholics (17%).
- Coverage, for the most part, ignored the pope's relationships with external constituencies. Just 1% focused on the pope's relationships with other religious leaders or other faiths, and only 3% focused on the pope and the Bush administration or the pope and American politics. Only 2% of the coverage made any reference to the U.S. presidential campaign.
Read the full report During U.S. Papal Visit, Media Focused on the Shepherd and His Flock on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.