Romney is Mormon: How many reminders do we need?

Over the weekend, I mentioned in passing that I wrote a column on the Mormon moment, since Mitt Romney will probably be the Republican nominee and the LDS Church is building Indiana’s first temple. My well-educated friends asked, “Wait, Romney’s Mormon?”

Like my friends, you probably haven’t watched much TV or read much of the Internet if you don’t know Romney is Mormon. Matthew Philbin pointed out at Newsbusters that networks seem obsessed with pointing out Romney’s faith. There was no coverage shortage of reporters wondering whether evangelicals would vote for a Mormon once Rick Santorum dropped out.

Just since Oct. 31, ABC, NBC and CBS have made 57 specific references to Romney’s faith. That’s on top of the more than 100 times they talked about it from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2011.

Unlike their colleagues at MSNBC, network reporters can’t openly attack Romney’s faith. But they can make sure nobody forgets what it is by including it in nearly every story that mentions him. They can wonder if “Mitt Romney`s Mormon faith is problematic” to Christians, as CBS’s Bill Whitaker did in January. They can cite “misconceptions” about polygamy, as NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren did in February.

Philbin pointed to a study by the Culture and Media Institute on how ABC, NBC and CBS covered the religion of the Republican vs. Democrat candidates during the 2008 race. The institute found that Republicans candidates’ faith was discussed seven times more than Democrats.

Another Newsbusters post pointed out some comments made by NBC’s David Gregory about whether Romney’s faith will be an issue. “But I think it’s an issue, I mean, I think a lot of people have questions about the Mormon faith,” Gregory said. “There’s a lot of ignorance about the Mormon faith. And let’s be honest, this is the core of who Mitt Romney is….And yet, he doesn’t talk about it.” So if Romney talked about his faith more often, would reporters cover it less?

“It’s the core of who he is, and yet he doesn’t feel like it’s safe to talk about….I’ve seen some polling that suggests even more Democrats than Republicans are uncomfortable with the notion of a Mormon president,” Gregory said, according to the post. “I think he’s got to talk about that at some level….the Mormon faith this is a tremendous commitment that he has. And yet, I think he feels apprehensive about talking about it openly.”

I wonder if reporters don’t cover President Obama’s faith talks much because he talks about it so often. Obama’s remarks on Jesus, the resurrection, faith and works at events like the prayer breakfast, Easter breakfast, etc. seem to get a snore from reporters. If Romney mentioned Jesus, it would be interesting to see the coverage.

Honest questions for our readers: How many times do you remind readers of a candidate’s faith? When a poll comes out saying some Americans believe Obama is a Muslim? When Mormons perform baptisms for the famous dead, does Romney get pulled into it? How often do you remind people of a candidate’s theology, practices, past statements, differences from other faiths, etc. For instance, if we talk about why evangelicals disagree with Romney’s Mormon faith, should reporters also talk about why evangelicals disagree with Obama’s United Church of Christ background? None of these are rhetorical questions. Please weigh in.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly

  • Jon in the Nati

    And let’s be honest, this is the core of who Mitt Romney is….And yet, he doesn’t talk about it.

    I wonder on what basis Gregory makes this claim. I’m sure it is probably true, as any person’s religion should be at the core of who they are. But what evidence is there to support this?

    For that matter, why is Gregory so desperate to have Romney talk about it? The only thin I can think of is that Romney is basically our generation’s JFK, and he may very soon have a JFK moment, in which he tries to shove his religion out of the sphere of public discourse and tell us it won’t matter a bit in his governance. I don’t know if it does anyone any good to have Romney seen as Mormon-in-Chief.

    I’ve seen some polling that suggests even more Democrats than Republicans are uncomfortable with the notion of a Mormon president,” Gregory said, according to the post.

    Probably true, but are these Democrats who would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president folks who would also be uncomfortable with a committed evangelical, or a committed and traditional Roman Catholic as president? I would imagine at least some of them are. Put another way, these are people who would have a big problem with any committed religious person in the White House, so the news that they are worried about a Mormon president is not really news.

  • sari

    Honest questions for our readers: How many times do you remind readers of a candidate’s faith?

    Good question and tough to answer. I think the problem arises when the faith is either not representative of the population or not representative of the position. Iow, the only reason to mention a candidate’s faith in Salt Lake is if he or she is not Mormon. Every culture has its default; in this country it’s white, Christian, straight, and male. Deviate from any of these and the media will include a definition: African-American, Jewish, Korean, etc.

    When a poll comes out saying some Americans believe Obama is a Muslim?

    Yes, because of the connotation that to be Muslim is to be, somehow, bad. Because news should inform and because folks are voting on a premise that is truly false. At some point, however, it should be ignored, just as we ignore children who are deliberately obnoxious for the attention.

    When Mormons perform baptisms for the famous dead, does Romney get pulled into it?

    No. He’s not the Prophet or even a member of the Seventy. It would be like holding a priest responsible for the Pope’s decisions or the actions of all Catholics.

    How often do you remind people of a candidate’s theology, practices, past statements, differences from other faiths, etc. For instance, if we talk about why evangelicals disagree with Romney’s Mormon faith, should reporters also talk about why evangelicals disagree with Obama’s United Church of Christ background?

    Insofar as a person’s faith affects voters’ perceptions and voting decisions, the discussion is relevant. Addressing your example, most evangelicals used criteria other than religion to rule out Obama as a viable candidate, starting with the facts that he is a Democrat and a liberal. Romney, on the other hand, is a Republican and a potential candidate for their demographic. I think, too, that he is perceived in much the same way that JFK was, because, like the RCC, the Church of LDS is so centralized and demands great allegiance of its followers. When many evangelicals made an issue of Romney’s religion, the topic became newsworthy.

    How much is too much? I don’t know. It would be nice to think that all this coverage has an educational component and will serve to foster tolerance, but that may be too idealistic a view. Personally, I think the incessant religion coverage detracts from his track record. The man’s been the governor of a large and prosperous state and a very successful businessman. On the family front, he seems to have a solid marriage and nice kids. These are what count, not whether he wears his garments to bed.

  • Suzanne

    As always, sari is wise.

  • Parker

    Yes, because of the connotation that to be Muslim is to be, somehow, bad.

    I thought the connotation was that it is bad to deceive the public about your religion.

    That is, if I believed that President Obama was a Muslim, I would not think it was bad that he was a Muslim, I would think it was bad that he lied to the American public.

  • sari

    It is bad to do either, Parker, but it would be a non-issue if being Muslim carried no stigma. Anyway, the press would do well at this point to accept that some people will choose to believe what they will despite all sorts of proof to the contrary, and to move on to new news. I think the analogy to feeding the whims of an obnoxious, attention-seeking child was apt. Sometimes the most prudent course is to walk away and let the tantrum subside.

  • Jerry

    How many times do you remind readers of a candidate’s faith?

    I’m not sure what the answer is to your question, Sarah. There are people who won’t pay attention no matter what. I’ve always been tuned into events and soak up information easily. But back in my activist days, we could have a poster on every tree and on every table in the student union and people would deny they ever saw any posters.

    And those who won’t believe no matter what. As to the later, there’s nothing you can do with people who actively refuse to recognize the truth. In this later category live people who refuse to believe Obama is a Christian even as they in the past castigated him for attending Rev. Wright’s church. Logic and facts don’t matter to someone who refuses to admit that he or she could be wrong.

    I guess the best one can do is to repeat facts enough to get to people who typically don’t pay attention to the news but start paying attention during presidential campaigns.

    As a side comment: to remark on the clothing Mormons choose to wear is to indirectly remark on skull caps Jews wear, clerical collars, priestly vestments and so forth. If one is acceptable and another is not it’s prejudice, pure and simple and should be labeled as such.

  • Jeff

    They can start asking Romney to apologize for his Mormonism when they start asking the President which parts of The Nicene Creed (if any) he is willing to affirm as something more than myths and metaphors.

  • Jeff

    When the press calls Romney “weird” they are dog-whistling that he’s Mormon.

    And when they call him (and call him and call him) “Mormon” they are likewise dog-whistling that he’s “weird” (“weird, weird, weird”).

    They are playing on latent bigotry to spook swing-voters and independents, and they ought to be ashamed.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Obama’s attempt to call Romney weird is at war with his attempt to classify him as someone from the 1950s. That is a stupid tactic, because that will just identify Romney with Reagan and prosperity and patriotism.

    Obama cannot start a discussion about Romney’s teligion withput making himself sound bigoted toward the fourth largest church in the US, the church that his Senate majority leader belongs to! It also raisrs questuons about his backgroundbwith Jeremiqh Wrught, the hate monger. Even though Obama is not a Muslim, his father and step father WERE muslims, and his mom chose two muslims to marry. He clearly has to have some special sympathy for muslims. What does he think of the religion of his fathers? When have we ever heard him talk about it? Batack Hussein Obama is too vulnerable on the teligion question to make it a live issue in the campaign.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Sari you know nothing about Salt Lake City. They have not had a Mormon mayor in decades. It is not uncommon for neither of the candidates in a run-off election there to be Mormons. Ross Anderson, the former mayor of the city, would attack members of the City council for being Mormons and thus not being “diverse” enough. Of course, when a person who was not white did run for mayor, Mr. Hola, a Tongan, he was also a Mormon. Mayor Anderson’s brand of “diversity” became at some point a way to keep the large Polynesian population of Salt Lake City out of office.

    If you “default position” argument is true, than expecting Romney to say anything ever about is faith is totally unfair. The less he says the better off he is, because anything he says will be twisted against him. That was clear from the mind reading in reports about his response to questions about doing baptisms for the dead.

  • John

    Personally I believe the religion issue has pretty well run its course. Anyone that cares about a candidate’s religion or is following the race knows Romney is Mormon and has already decided whether that is an issue for them. If someone does not know at this point that he is Mormon, they don’t care.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Jon in the Nati –

    …are these Democrats who would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president folks who would also be uncomfortable with a committed evangelical, or a committed and traditional Roman Catholic as president? I would imagine at least some of them are. Put another way, these are people who would have a big problem with any committed religious person in the White House…

    Wait – is being “uncomfortable with” Mormonism, “committed evangelical[s]“, and “committed and traditional Roman Catholic[s]” equivalent to being uncomfortable with “any committed religious person”?

    Or are you saying that any religious person “these Democrats” would be comfortable with must, ipso facto, not be “committed”?

  • sari

    As a side comment: to remark on the clothing Mormons choose to wear is to indirectly remark on skull caps Jews wear, clerical collars, priestly vestments and so forth. If one is acceptable and another is not it’s prejudice, pure and simple and should be labeled as such.

    Jerry,
    I think a lot has to do with how the information is presented and the types of questions asked. Most people are aware that some Jewish men wear kippot; they’re less aware that kippot can serve as group markers within the larger Jewish community. Taking that step further, I have read mainstream news articles on observant Jews which ignore kippot altogether, because it’s understood that Orthodox Jewish men will wear them, but hone in tzitzit, the ritual fringes, also worn by males age three and over. Why? Most people outside the observant community are unfamilar with tzitzit. That would include Jewish reporters.

    Ideally the press would limit itself to a description of the tzitzit, the religious rationale for wearing them, and maybe interview a few men or women for a persoanl perspective on their importance. Past that, the press should stop.

    Our tzitzit, according to my LDS friends, serve much of the same function as the Mormon garment. The difference is that LDS garments are invisible to the observer, whereas tzitzit are visible. Either way, it is not the press’s place to do more than describe. Commentary is unacceptable.

  • John Pack Lambert

    On the other hand, in the Salt Lake County Mayorial race, which is a different animal than Salt Lake City (among other reasons because it is a partisan, not a non-partisan race) we get this article from the Salt Lake Tribune http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment/53914664-90/county-mcadams-romero-lake.html.csp which only tells us one candidate is Mormon, it never tells us the religion of the other candidate.

    For various and complexed reason the Democrat Party in Utah runs an active attempt to recruit Mormons in a way Republicans would be lambasted for, so that is part of what is going on here. Still the fact that only one candidates religion is identified, and that is as a Mormon tells us that “the person outside the norm” does not work. I am not sure any governors race since 1916 in Utah has featured explicit references to either candidates religion, and 1916 is when Utah became the second state to elect a Jew as governor (second only to Idaho).

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It is still early in the presidential election season. Maybe the mainstream media, which seems obssessed with Romney’s religion, is unwittingly doing him a big favor–the oppopsite of what I believe they are intending. The favor is that when the real campaign heats up in the fall, Romney’s religion will be old news–heard that before, seen that before–old news is no news in the rapidly spinning media news cycle. Didn’t some Democrat Party high level operative and regular White House visitor say something insulting about women who work in the home as homemakers and mothers about a century or two ago????

  • David Walser

    Mitt Romney is in a difficult position. Many voters have legitimate questions about his religious views and what those views might say about how a President Romney would govern. Voters have these questions because many are unfamiliar with Mormons in a way that they are not with Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. The difficulty is that many voters (often the same voters) have illegitimate questions about Romney’s religious views. (“Illegitimate” only in the sense that the questions have nothing to do with how a President Romney might govern, but may be nothing more than a natural and healthy curiosity.)

    How can Romney address the first set of questions without being dragged into a discussion of the second set and turning the election into a referendum on Mormonism? The answer is that he most likely cannot. The LDS Church’s teachings about the proper role of government fall within the broad mainstream of Judeo-Christian thought. Romney has already said as much. Several times. He even gave his own JFK speech that outlined in some detail his views on the role of religion in governance.

    Saying more than would require Romney to detail (and defend) doctrines that are unique to his Church. Even if he could discuss such issues without turning the race into a referendum on Mormonism, he shouldn’t have such a discussion. Romney is running for President of the USA. He’s NOT serving as an advocate for his Church. If elected, he needs to be able to represent Americans of all religious views, not just Mormons.

    If people want to satisfy their curiosity about the LDS Church’s unique beliefs, they have plenty of resources. Mitt Romney should not be one of them.

  • Fern

    I don’t mention Romney’s religion in talking about him because I assume everyone knows that already.

    I don’t mention other people’s religions much because I don’t know that information myself. (I didn’t know that “Obama [had a] United Church of Christ background.)

    Romney has gotten pulled into the Baptisms for the dead issue.

    There are certain core teachings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)that might matter in regards to national politics. Most of them come from the Articles of Faith mostly the last three:

    11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

    12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

    13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

    All I ask from the press is fair and honest treatment of us all, especially where faith is concerned. p.s. I don’t care what kind of underwear the president may, or may not, wear.

  • Ann

    I wonder why Newsbusters did not include the media coverage of Fox News. Could it be that Newsbusters is a biased source of information?

    Mormon Mitt Romney not ‘Christian,’ says Fox News host
    http://tinyurl.com/3eltpa5

    Fox News host: Question of the Day: Could Mitt Romney’s Mormon Faith Keep You From Voting for Him for President?

    http://tinyurl.com/bsjdrf9

    Fox & Friends Anchors Grill ‘Anti-Mormon’ Pastor Jeffress Over His Flip-Flop On Romney
    http://tinyurl.com/btzdnm6

    VIDEO: Watch as Chris Christie and Mitt Romney Address Supporters, Christie Answers Questions on Romney’s Mormon Faith
    http://tinyurl.com/c7y59ox

    More search results from Fox that includes Romney & Mormon
    http://tinyurl.com/d2cq8wt

  • Will

    It depends on how easily someone’s religion can be used as a stick to beat him. Missouri Democrats were “Uncomfortable” with a Swedenborgian in the legislature — or claimed to be, invoking “cult” innuendos about a “strange church” that “doesn’t believe in normal things.” (Coverage has disappeared from the index on the Post-Dispatch site, so I can’t give a link.) Queens Democrats were “uncomfortable” with a neo-pagan as city councilman, or claimed to be; and will probably bring it up again now that he has his sights on Congress.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Ray Ingles,

    I meant simply that most Democrats who would say that they are uncomfortable with a Mormon president would be uncomfortable with a particularly committed person of any religious affiliation as president. That is all.

    Even if he could discuss such issues without turning the race into a referendum on Mormonism, he shouldn’t have such a discussion. Romney is running for President of the USA. He’s NOT serving as an advocate for his Church. [...]

    If people want to satisfy their curiosity about the LDS Church’s unique beliefs, they have plenty of resources. Mitt Romney should not be one of them.

    THIS.

  • Jay

    Romney has already made the choice to not talk about his religion so we should respect his privacy about his religion, and as Fern pointed out “the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience.” Ideally we shouldn’t be reminding anyone of the religion of any of the candidates, but outfits like Newsbusters have made a cottage industry out of the president’s (and the candidates’) religion, so it has become fodder for the media, like it or not.

    most Democrats who would say that they are uncomfortable with a Mormon president would be uncomfortable with a particularly committed person of any religious affiliation as president

    That’s plain incorrect, Jon in the Nati. Don’t forget that the first born-again, pro-life president was a Democrat, a Baptist deacon. Similarly Romney was a Mormon bishop and since Romney has been running for president a long time, he should be prepared that the questions will come up, especially as the big money turns this campaign into a real circus.

  • MJBubba

    I perceive the constant reminder of Romney’s Mormonism as a way for the media to gin up support for Obama from the pro-same-sex marriage crowd, because those folk are already all in for Obama and they all recall the Mormon efforts in support of California Prop 8.

  • Jeff

    Jay,

    Please. Give us a break.

    The Democratic Party of 1976 is very, very different from The Democratic Party of today.

    No pro-lifer of any sort, and least of all a Southern Baptist deacon, could ever be the Democratic nominee for President today.

    No way. No how.

  • sari

    I perceive the constant reminder of Romney’s Mormonism as a way for the media to gin up support for Obama from the pro-same-sex marriage crowd, because those folk are already all in for Obama and they all recall the Mormon efforts in support of California Prop 8.

    MJB,
    I disagree. It is largely because some Christian leaders were vocally anti-Mormon that Romney’s religion remained in the news. It is largely because many or maybe most reporters are ignorant of religion in particular and LDS in particular that many of the articles were spectacularly inappropriate, but there’s no denying that members of the far right worked hard to discredit Romney by way of his religion in order to generate support for Santorum.

    You can’t blame the press for that. Given a choice between the two, it’s pretty obvious which one they’d support.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    John Pack Lambert, please choose to comment lease frequently so as not to dominate the conversation. Everyone: focus on journalism, please.

  • http://www.cardinalchurchfurniture.com/church_chairs.html Harvard Bennet

    We are changing as a nation, but sometimes that changes is so slow, and kind of funny to watch. I think people are still rooted in Judeo/Christian heritage and history.

    People are still afraid of anyone that is blatantly not Christian, they are just not sure. The mormon faith is not very old and has had a very negative beginning, they have overcome a lot.

    With that said, I think we are all better served to look more closely at an individual first and maybe their faith second. There are enough nuts in all faiths.

    I was taking a tour with my friend in his business, he sells church chairs, he has been in business since the 40′s. We briefly touched on religion and politics, he was raised Catholic, as was I, and we both approach our faith differently now; I sense a greater tolerance now, but this country was founded on Christian faith, that is hard to change.

  • MJBubba

    sari, just because the press strongly prefer Romney to Santorum does not mean that there will be any support for Romney from the media in the general election. No, expect the mass media, with exceptions of Fox and the Wall Street Journal, to serve as an extention of the Obama campaign.
    John McCain spent twenty years as a media darling because he was more of a centrist than the average Republican. He was totally unprepared to go within a month’s time (when he locked up the Republican nomination in 2008) from being a media darling to being the butt of bitter ridicule and dirty tricks from people that he had thought of as friends.
    The media took advantage of the conservative Christian dislike of Mormonism for their own purposes, not because they think Christian opinions are newsworthy.