- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It is a cultural moment, and a public relations opportunity: President Obama and Pope Francis meet face to face Thursday, a phenomenon that is being heralded as a red carpet event by press and pundits. Speculation, showbiz and melodrama is rampant in news coverage far in advance. Photographers and TV crews are mulling over how to best frame a dream portrait of two leaders who are powerful for different reasons.

“The pictures alone will set certain conservative hearts on edge and make liberal Catholics swoon. But will the visit yield more than a photo-op for a president struggling with low poll numbers?” asks Michael Sean Winters, who covers politics for the National Catholic Reporter.

And from the public relations realm comes this analysis from Kevin McCauley, a columnist for O’Dwyers PR, an industry publication.

“The hard-pressed American president, who has long lost his image mojo, desperately needs a boost. Good news: It may come in the guise of Pope Francis. The pontiff, who has just completed his first year in the seat of St. Peter, still draws international raves,” Mr. McCauley says.


He adds, “As captain of the shipwreck, it’s incumbent on President Obama to steer the beached ship of state back into the deep blue sea. In adopting Pope Francis‘ communications model, one grounded in transparency and inclusion, the president would forge his own second coming — on the image front.”

Meanwhile, the outcome of it all is subject to much interpretation. Mr. Obama, who arrives in Rome on Wednesday night, has been wrangling with serious and complex national security issues, plus Russian saber-rattling all week. He will be primed for something of a more cultural nature. The news media is already creating the narrative.

Among the many headlines heralding pontiff and president 24 hours in advance of their meet-and-greet:

“For Obama, salvation in a photo op?” (The Detroit News), “Will there be a selfie?” (Guardian Liberty Voice), “What Pope Francis can teach President Obama” (Religious News Service), “Don’t expect President Obama to get a lot of love from Pope Francis” (The Week Magazine), “Don’t expect a mind meld” (Wall Street Journal), “The Catholic roots of Obama’s activism” (The New York Times), “The truth about Obama’s ‘Catholic Roots’” (National Review Online), “Obama oils China-Vatican links” (Asia Times).

RUN, JEB, RUN

“Do not stop the presses. Former governor Jeb Bush is most certainly running for president. And here’s a stunner. So is Hillary Clinton. Really. You may go back to sleep now. How do we know Jeb has visions of Air Force One dancing in his dreams?” asks Daniel Ruth, a veteran columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

“Would you slink into Las Vegas to schmooze gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who regards GOP presidential nominees as if they were trophy heads mounted in his den, if you had no interest in the White House? Bush is not going to Vegas to catch Meat Loaf’s act at Planet Hollywood. There are many mysteries in life. But Bush’s political ambition is not one of them,” Mr. Ruth says, referencing the National Jewish Coalition’s four-day gathering at the glittering Venetian Hotel in Vegas, which begins Thursday and counts Mr. Adelson as both pointman and a pivotal campaign donor.

FOR THE LEXICON

“Weiner!”

— Title of new political column by Anthony Weiner, to begin running in the International Business Times on Friday. The publication cites the disgraced former New York congressman’s “brashness and wonkiness” as his major appeal.

THE BIG SHUSH ON OBAMACARE

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