Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis (left) reportedly met with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last week. (Timothy D. Easley, Associated Press; Max Rossi/Reuters)
Media critic

Cameras were trained on Pope Francis even before his plane landed on Sept. 22 at Joint Base Andrews. They followed his every step in the United States and chronicled his every wave and kiss. Eight thousand journalists, in all, were credentialed to cover his U.S. visit, with a smaller group of mainstream outlets covering the pope from inside his chartered plane.

A week after his arrival, perhaps the biggest news of the visit emerged: Inside the Vatican — “News and analysis on the Church and the world” — published an account of the meeting on Sept. 24 between Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who’d been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the pope. “It was, arguably, the most significant meeting, symbolically, of the entire trip,” writes Inside the Vatican’s Robert Moynihan, the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief.

No argument here. The fact of the pope’s visit; the themes he struck in addressing Congress and the United Nations; and his personal style — they are all newsworthy and covered en masse by the U.S. media. Yet U.S. news outlets would gladly have traded their wall-to-wall narration for the blockbuster story that the pope had embraced a woman who’d been jailed for refusing to recognize the law of the land.

Moynihan got details, too, in a chat with Davis herself. “Pope Francis entered the room. Kim greeted him, and the two embraced. There is no recording of this conversation, or photographs, as far as I know. But ‘there is not any thing secret that shall not be made manifest, nor hidden, that shall not be known and come to light.’ (Luke 8:17)” writes Moynihan.

How did Moynihan score the exclusive? Unclear. An attempt to interview him failed, as an assistant today told the Erik Wemple Blog that Moynihan is working on a follow-up story and unavailable to talk. Vatican officials aren’t denying the meeting and ABC News has secured an interview — an “exclusive” one, of course — with Davis confirming Moynihan’s story.

James Martin of America Media cautions against reading too much into the report from Inside the Vatican, noting that during his visit the pope held meetings, some of which have come to light and others that may not have. “The pope would have been introduced to many more people whom we may never know about: individual Catholics whom a Vatican official, or a local bishop or friend of the pope, felt was especially deserving of a visit — again, these would include Catholic donors, priests, men and women in religious orders, and so on,” writes Martin.

Point taken, but still: Kim Davis reportedly hugged the pope. The meeting came as Davis was visiting Washington in part to receive a “Cost of Discipleship Award” from the Family Research Council at its annual Values Voter Summit. Davis’s activities in Washington came just after she’d given interviews to mainstream outlets. ABC News spent hours with Davis at her Kentucky property, and Fox News’s Megyn Kelly aired a sit-down with Davis the night before her session with the pope.

However Davis hooked up with “Inside the Vatican,” she needn’t have feared harsh treatment from its pages. “The faith of the church is incarnated in its incarnation. Our whole concept of reality is that we are connected to the ultimate reality of God in a very real way through the incarnation of his son, who became man. And therefore we have a respect for the natural world which he entered into and embraced and we have a love of the things of the senses,” said Moynihan in a video posted on the “Inside the Vatican” Web site.

Terry Moran, an ABC News correspondent, asked Pope Francis during his visit whether he supported government officials who deny same-sex marriage licenses based on their religious objections. “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection,” responded Pope Francis. “But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.”

Citing those comments, Moynihan writes in his breaking news story: “Those who have seen the images of the film of the Pope answering the questions of the journalists on the airplane, on the matter of individual conscience, his determination and passion, are persuaded that he had in mind not a theoretical issue of conscience, but a specific person, someone he had met and embraced — someone whose burden, as a loving pastor, he had taken on his own shoulders.”

So to the question in the headline about how a small nation of journalists could have missed this meeting: The answer comes from Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein: Easily. In 2008, Boorstein covered the Washington visit of Pope Benedict XVI as a member of the Vatican Accredited Media Personnel. These VAMPers get closer to pope activities than the public or the mass of regular old credentialed media reps. That doesn’t mean much, however. “You’re nowhere near the pope,” says Boorstein. “You’re just sitting in a slightly closer section. When he goes in the [Vatican] embassy, you’re not with him.”

She continues, “There’s a lot of visits that happen that we don’t know about.”