Before we get to the coverage of Mitt Romney's visit to Liberty University, I'd like to flash back to the scene-setter story that ran in The Washington Post on the day before that commencement address. One of the keys to this kind of coverage is that far too many reporters seem to think that evangelical Protestants are the only Trinitarian Christians who have problems with many of the core doctrines that are proclaimed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is an evangelical problem, you see, not a clash between Mormons and Methodists, Mormons and Roman Catholics, Mormons and the Orthodox, etc., etc.
The other key to the coverage is that reporters are struggling to describe the differences between the beliefs of Mormons and these dang evangelical Protestants (as well as Catholics, the Orthodox, Lutherans, etc., etc.) without discussing, well, the differences between these radically different camps of believers.
In other words, it's hard to write a story about XYZ without mentioning some of the content of XYZ. However, many reporters seem determined to do precisely that.
You can see this struggle in this particular Post report, which opens like this:
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Megan Leach and Sarabeth Rudd agree on almost everything. They are both evangelical, in their 20s and law students at the conservative Liberty University. They vehemently oppose abortion rights and same-sex marriage, believing they are contrary to God’s word. Yet when presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney comes to their campus Saturday to speak before a crowd of 34,000, Leach will be there cheering him on and Rudd will stay home.
One woman is hoping she will see a conservative leader willing to take a stand on social issues. The other said her conscience won’t allow her to vote for a candidate who does not share her religious beliefs.
What, precisely, is implied with this statement that Romney does not share "her religious beliefs"? The candidate also does not share the "religious beliefs" of law student No. 1, either. That is clear.
Come to think of it, it would be accurate to say that neither of these women share many, or maybe some, of the "religious beliefs" of Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, either, since they are Catholics. What we have here is a totally empty phrase.
Let's move on.
Republican strategists hope the renewed debate on social issues, in the wake of President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, will galvanize conservative Christians behind Romney.
But Rudd thinks the former Massachusetts governor should never have been invited to speak at her college. There is nothing he could say to win her vote -- other than that he has become an evangelical Christian and made Jesus his savior.
“People get so blinded by their party that they forget principle,” said Rudd, who is 25. “His theology goes against my faith. I’m not going to vote for him for that.”
So Rudd would not vote for Santorum? She would not vote for a Catholic conservative? How about a conservative Anglican? Once again, what does, "His theology goes against my faith" mean? Readers must assume, of course, that this statement has something to do with the whole evangelical vs. Mormon thing (when the actual issues are larger and deeper than that).
Let's move on, again.
In the GOP primaries, conservative Christians were among the Republicans least likely to support Romney. Although polls show some movement, several prominent evangelical leaders have raised concerns about his Mormon faith, saying it does not represent their own worldview. Liberty’s curriculum refers to Mormonism as conflicting with its own theology.
Worldview? Is the doctrine of the Trinity merely a part of an undefined "worldview"? Also, what is meant by the statement that Mormonism conflicts with this university's "own theology"? Once again, this makes it sound like the conflicts between Mormonism and Trinitarian Christianity are the result of small, specific beliefs that are solely defended by the kind of folks who congregate in places such as Liberty University. In an attempt to avoid facts and specifics, the story serves up -- nothing.
At the end, we see the same problem, one last time.
Jason Campbell, who graduated from Liberty seven years ago and was back on campus Thursday, is hoping Romney -- despite his religious beliefs -- can get evangelicals fired up for 2012.
“This is still the Moral Majority,” he said. “It’s right here.”
Read the whole story and then answer this question: What specific doctrinal issues are at the heart of the conflict between Romney and these students? What did readers actually learn from this story?
Good luck with that. Did anyone actually talk to these students? Ask them any specific questions and record the answers?