Reader Email: Newsweek Piece Unfair

Thanks to reader James Masters for sending the following email contribution. Please email your guest post to [email protected]

The current issue of Newsweek includes an extensive article on the relationship between Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith (authors: Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller). Aside from being a bit discombobulated in flow and structure, the article is also weakly presented as “balanced.” The attempted “balance” comes in a tit-for-tat package of terse compliments coupled with small nuggets of Mormon culture. As is the case with many other articles in the media on Mormonism, the article contains assertions with little contextual elaboration and fails to attribute relevance on some points.

The first blow to Romney comes in the form of a question posed to him about the location of his childhood chapel. Darman and Miller described Mitt as going from “polished” to “uncomfortable”. Indeed, some media references to Romney’s Mormon faith have caused a level of discomfort and sometimes contention such as the secretly taped “off-air” confrontation with radio host Jan Mickelson. The problem is that the Newsweek article then dives into highlighting the differences between evangelical Christians and Mormons (more on this later). Only later in the article do Darman and Miller offer an explanation as to why Romney may feel uncomfortable about his religion – or any other topic for that matter. This quote from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is in reference to a gaffe made by Mitt’s father George Romney during his own presidential bid in 1967:

“That’s one reason Mitt is very measured in what he says—he doesn’t want anyone to seize upon anything he says to scuttle his campaign like they did his father’s”


The approach of choosing words carefully is hardly anything new in the political arena. In fact, this approach is almost expected given the prevalence of sound-bites being played by a number of different media forms (many times out-of-context).

Perhaps the hardest blow in the article is the accusation that Mitt conveniently adopted the phrase “personal Lord and Savior” used when addressing evangelical Christians. The article then goes on to assert (incorrectly) that this vernacular is not common amongst Mormons. It does not take a professional journalist to meander over to the official website of the LDS Church and type “Personal Savior” in the search field to see what comes up. Even a simple interview with any LDS church member easily would have disproved this claim. Unfortunately, there is no source cited in the article as to why Darman and Miller feel that this phrase is uncommon among Mormons.

The next topic presented is that of the LDS temple rituals. A discussion about baptisms by proxy in behalf of the dead were initially described as “secret” and later described as “sacred”. Indeed, LDS church members prefer references to the temple as “sacred” as opposed to “secret” given the potential negative connotations that inherently come with “secret”. The truth be told, the temple rituals focus on personal development in all aspects of life. There are no secret plans to usurp government or take over the world. And for the record, baptisms done on behalf of the dead are done out of love for the deceased to offer them a chance to be baptized – and this is given as a choice that they are able to either accept or reject of their own volition.

But the question that should be kept in mind when reading articles like this is: how are the points raised in the article relevant to a candidate running for President of the United States? If Mitt Romney wants to focus on common values shared between Mormons and non-Mormons alike, then why are Mormon-specific doctrines important or relevant? This question should be also asked with the following in mind (these quotes were found near the end of the Newsweek article):

“Romney was careful to keep his professional and private lives separate.”

“As governor, he had demonstrated he was not interested in imposing the doctrines of his faith on the people of Massachusetts.”

 

Ryan notes: In fairness, I should point out that the article was written with the help of Elise Soukup, who is a Mormon, and who is a talented and intelligent writer.  Thus, while Mr. Masters is somewhat right to note the lack of subtlety in Newsweek’s handling of the “personal savior” comment, the fault does not lie in a failure to check knowledgeable sources.