A brief unscientific survey of Utah newspapers' coverage of Mitt Romney's speech on Thursday shows that reporters were quite aware that Romney hardly delved into his church's teachings. Despite Romney's emphasis on how his faith makes him qualified for the presidency since he shares American values -- and how he believes in the same Jesus Christ as Christians -- reporters in Utah, where more than 60 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, made sure people knew that the Mormon faith was hardly the topic in College Station, Texas.
For instance, here is the lede from the Deseret Morning News, a publication owned by a for-profit business holding company affiliated with the church:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered few details about his Mormon faith in his long-awaited speech on religion here Thursday, focusing instead on the need to stand up against efforts to eliminate God from public life and other beliefs he shares with conservatives.
The Salt Lake City Tribune also picked up on the absence of Mormon theology in the speech:
But Romney, the speech's chief author, carefully crafted his words, mentioning the word Mormon only once and referring generically to his church.
The Herald Journal, a daily newspaper in Logan, Utah, explained why Romney decided to avoid the issue of Mormon theology:
The address on the role of religion in public life was effective on several fronts, according to Philip Barlow, a professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University.
... (The) former Massachusetts governor did not delve into details about specific church doctrines in the speech, and Barlow believes that too served him well.
"I think that's a lose-lose situation in a format such as that because any religious view ... could be made to look silly," Barlow said. "Mormonism is a very complex religion compared to most, and it can come across as weird to outside observers unless it has a very carefully mapped out context."
The few details Romney offered were contained in this paragraph of the speech:
There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
The problems with these stories commenting on the lack of a rich explanation for his church's beliefs is that while it is largely true in terms of quantity, I am not so sure it is true in terms of substance. This one paragraph is key to Romney. Reporters writing on the speech, if they take a close look at it and ask some tough questions, may find that there are other aspects to this statement.
Romney acknowledges that his faith on Jesus differs from that of Christians and he's willing to lose the election if voters hold that against him. Romney is calling for tolerance from those who believe something different on the nature of Jesus Christ. However, what is his message of tolerance to those who do not believe in Jesus at all and what is reporter's role in telling that story?