One of the things that your GetReligionistas keep saying — to the point of aggravating many readers — is that it is often possible for journalists to spot and define a religion ghost quite easily, using relatively few lines of type in this post-USA Today journalistic world in which we live.
I mean, after 24 years of writing a weekly column that is approximately 666 words long (I jest, but not by much), I am well aware that almost all journalists wish that their stories could be two or three or 20 inches longer. Extra length allows the inclusion of all kinds of interesting alternative, balancing voices and even the occasional paragraph or two of accurate background material.
The other GetReligionistas have been there too. We know that pain. Our stories have been cut, too.
Thus, in that spirit, I would like to spotlight an example of a daily political story — although one that is a generous 1,200 words long — that spots the its religion ghost and briefly and concisely gives the reader the bare minimum of information that is needed to promote, well, understanding. This particular Washington Post story ran under the headline: “Mia Love of Utah hopes to become the first black Republican woman in Congress.”
Obviously, there are all kinds of stereotypes involved in the report and the lede states the obvious:
SALT LAKE CITY – Other than her conservatism, there is little about Mia Love that doesn’t stand out in Utah. She is a black Republican, a 36-year-old mother of three, a fitness instructor and mayor of a growing town.
Now, her congressional race against a popular incumbent whom Republicans have struggled to defeat has made Love a minor celebrity among GOP stalwarts.
She recently introduced herself to a group of teachers, standing in the gilded state Capitol, which historically has been the domain of white men, by describing her Haitian American father. “He said: ‘Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society,’?” she said with a stern smile. “?‘You will give back.’?”
OK, so her family background is Haitian. What’s the first question, GetReligion readers, that pops into your mind when you see that information near the top of this story? Right. Me too.
Only a few lines later, the Post story quickly gets to half of the information that is needed in this religious equation:
If she wins, not only would she help Republicans keep control of the House, but she would become the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Love, who is Mormon, also could go a long way toward helping presidential candidate Mitt Romney, putting a fresh face on his church and his party as both try to appeal to an increasingly diverse nation.
So we are dealing with a black, female, Mormon of Haitian background. That’s interesting.
Suffice it to say that the land of Haiti is not famous for having a large Mormon population. Haiti is, however, well known as a land rich in Catholic culture as well as in the practice of voodoo. As the old saying goes (and there are many variations), Haiti is 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant and 100 percent voodoo.
Suffice it to say that this story still has ground to cover if it is going to address even the bare minimum of religious questions raised by Love’s life and career. However, a little more than half way into the story, readers are rewarded with this short, crisp summary of some of the events in the candidate’s life that are relevant to her rise in Utah.
Love has placed no special significance on the history she could make in Congress, but she knows the stakes are high. Matheson, who also had an uncontested primary, has outpaced her in fundraising by nearly 10 to 1. And she recognizes that some might question her ties to her adopted state: How does a woman born in Brooklyn and reared in Connecticut end up in Utah?
While in college she met her future husband, Jason Love, who was in Connecticut on a Mormon mission. Fourteen years ago, she moved to Utah; left the Catholic Church, in which she was raised; and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Love, whose husband is white, said she has felt nothing but acceptance in Utah.
She has said that when she heard talk about taking the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, she decided to run for city council in Saratoga Springs, a town of about 18,000, and was elected mayor in 2009.
Would many readers want to know more? Of course. Some might even want to ask a voodoo question, although I think that’s a sideline subject here. The key is her move from Catholicism to Mormonism and its role in her personal history.
In the end, does this story at least give people outside of Utah a chance to understand how Love ended up in this particular race, in this particular state at this particular time? I would say, “yes.”