How not to report on religion

A GetReligion reader submitted an interesting link to "Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt making a statement that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is "obviously" not a Christian. It's a brief comment as part of a larger conversation about how Romney might have trouble with evangelical voters. And it's the type of statement that inappropriately takes sides in a fierce theological debate. Traditional Christian church bodies and Mormons do not recognize each others' baptisms or sacraments as valid. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concede that they oppose traditional Christian beliefs and the ecumenical creeds but they say that they follow Jesus and are Christian.

"Obviously" Fox & Friends hosts should not weigh in on this debate about whether to call Mormons Christian.

I wasn't sure if it was enough to build a post around, figuring I'd save it for the inevitable series of Mormon posts we'll be writing as Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and other famous Mormons continue to be in the news.

However, the reader also sent along the online video clip that is embedded here. And it is utterly amazing.

In it, reporter Ben Ferguson mocks Mormons beliefs with all the nuance of a brick through a plate glass window. He makes fun of Mormon beliefs on the afterlife and then mocks teachings about where they believe the Garden of Eden is located. And why? It's really hard to tell. The reporter makes some point about how his "reporting" shows that Romney will want to keep discussion away from his religion.

Come on. This is not reporting. This is shockingly inappropriate for broadcast by a supposedly objective local media outlet. The report apparently ran a couple of weeks ago but I didn't catch it until this week. At the time it ran, Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches unloaded on the piece. Here's how she explained what happened:

"Can you name the candidate who is running for president who believes that if he is a good person, he will get his own planet?" Ferguson goaded.

Five or six Memphis citizens shake their heads, chuckling, rolling their eyes. One woman darts from the camera.

"It's not Mitt Romney is it?" asks a man in a blue shirt with a ponytail.

"It is Mitt Romney," intones Ferguson, aping and goofing, "it is."

"Would you vote for someone for president who believes that if they are a good person, you will get their own planet?" Ferguson continues, "You want your own planet, don't you?"

Sure, it's a distorting and sensationalistic caricature of Mormon beliefs to say that all of us believe we're going to get our own planets. You could sit in your local Mormon Church for a month of Sundays and hear no reference to it. Even among orthodox Mormons, talk of planets (and the American location of the Garden of Eden—another matter ridiculed by Ferguson) is the subject of gentle insider humor, a nod to older strains of Mormon belief and folklore.

But even more objectionable is holding a televised street-corner referendum with the sole aim of making a minority religion look foolish.

Exactly. While Brooks might be understating the Mormon position on these doctrines, it's not like the reporter -- or the anchor who chats with him after the bit or any producer involved in it -- was aiming to inform or tie these beliefs into actual policy discussions. I'm all for people discussing the role religion might play in a candidate's perspective. But this was not done for that purpose.

I hope that Ferguson and his bosses reconsider whether such religious mocking should ever be allowed on the air again.

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