White House Press Protest Over Ban on Live Coverage of Biden's Pope Visit

Joe Biden's meeting with the head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis at the Vatican will not be broadcast live.

Vatican-accredited journalists and photographers have not been granted access to the initial handshake and have objected in writing to the Vatican's cancelation on Thursday.

Associated Press confirmed in a statement on Thursday that it, along with members of the Vatican Correspondents' Association, had complained to the Vatican about the canceled live broadcast and had demanded explanations.

Pre-pandemic Vatican protocols allowed journalists, including the president's media pool, access to the greeting and the traditional and ceremonial gift exchange prior to a private conversation.

Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, announced its solidarity with Vatican reporters in "expressing our disappointment that the world won't see live pictures of President Biden's meeting with Pope Francis."

He wrote: "Reporters have been covering the papal audiences of American presidents since Woodrow Wilson sat w/Benedict I in January 1919. Most recently, members of our WH press corps helped bring the world pictures of Francis's mtgs [meetings] with Obama & Trump.

"Our fully-vaccinated & masked pool of reporters is ready to continue this public service, mindful of its own safety as well as the leaders', to ensure independent coverage of the first Catholic president in 60 yrs [years] meeting with the head of the Catholic church.

"The WH [White House] told us the bilateral meeting would involve Biden & Francis discussing substantive matters of global significance 'including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.' Such an international news event demands independent coverage."

Biden Pope Visit
Pope Francis waves, next to then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on a balcony after speaking at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2015. Joe Biden's historic first meeting as U.S. president with Pope Francis in Rome will not be broadcast live. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Newsweek has contacted the White House, the Vatican and the White House Correspondents' Association for updates.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the Vatican's media restricted access during a press briefing, stating: "What I can assure you of is that we are working, through every lever we have, to advocate for access for the press pool and for press when the president visits the Vatican.

Steven Portnoy is the president of the WHCA. https://t.co/aDHBg0JXUk

— WHCA (@whca) October 28, 2021

"We believe in the value of the free press. We believe in the value of ensuring you have access to the president's trips and his visits overseas."

PR and media expert Anthony Burr, founder of Burr Media, told Newsweek via email: "The Vatican has taken the opportunity to 'stage manage' the visit under the cloak of the Coronavirus procedures that have been in place since early 2020.

"Is this a rebuke because of the abortion issue? Quite possibly. Biden's support for abortion rights is in stark contrast to Pope Francis' who has continued the Catholic Church's opposition to it, even being quoted as calling it 'murder'.

"The live broadcasts always pick up every little nuances, whether they are comments or body language traits, and by precluding the live media and world from watching every move of the meeting, the Vatican's PR machine can exercise its control of the narrative.

"Only the Vatican's official photographer and videographer will cover it LIVE, and the Vatican's Press Office will then edit the video and distribute it after the meeting.

"This is a precedent which those supporting free Press will not wish to be set. Time will tell whether the Vatican exercises future Head of State visits in this manner, and if they do, it will be interesting to know the reasons why."

Biden has met Pope Francis three times, but this will be his first as the U.S. president—the country's second Catholic leader.

Next stop: Rome. pic.twitter.com/hl7WML3Zqw

— President Biden (@POTUS) October 28, 2021

According to the White House, the president plans to discuss "ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor."

The meeting comes as U.S. bishops are to attend in a few weeks an annual fall convention. One of its agenda items has been inspired by conservatives who say that Biden's support for abortion rights should disqualify him from receiving Communion, according to the Associated Press.

While Pope Francis has described abortion as "murder," he has also said bishops should be pastors, not politicians.

Pope Francis previously visited the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of the death of Joe Biden's son Beau.

Biden recalled: "We had just lost my son. And he met with my extended family in the hangar behind where the aircraft was. And I wish every grieving parent, brother, sister, mother, father, would have the benefit of his words, his prayers, his presence. He provided us with more comfort that even he, I think, will understand."

Pope Francis on Friday has urged world leaders meeting at Glasgow's COP26 climate summit, which is to begin on October 31, to respond to the environmental crisis and give "concrete hope" to future generations.

UPDATE 10/29/21 7:02 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comments from Anthony Burr.