Over the weekend, I mentioned in passing that I wrote a column on the Mormon moment, since Mitt Romney will probably be the Republican nominee and the LDS Church is building Indiana's first temple. My well-educated friends asked, "Wait, Romney's Mormon?"
Like my friends, you probably haven't watched much TV or read much of the Internet if you don't know Romney is Mormon. Matthew Philbin pointed out at Newsbusters that networks seem obsessed with pointing out Romney's faith. There was no coverage shortage of reporters wondering whether evangelicals would vote for a Mormon once Rick Santorum dropped out.
Just since Oct. 31, ABC, NBC and CBS have made 57 specific references to Romney’s faith. That’s on top of the more than 100 times they talked about it from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2011.
Unlike their colleagues at MSNBC, network reporters can’t openly attack Romney’s faith. But they can make sure nobody forgets what it is by including it in nearly every story that mentions him. They can wonder if “Mitt Romney`s Mormon faith is problematic” to Christians, as CBS’s Bill Whitaker did in January. They can cite “misconceptions” about polygamy, as NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren did in February.
Philbin pointed to a study by the Culture and Media Institute on how ABC, NBC and CBS covered the religion of the Republican vs. Democrat candidates during the 2008 race. The institute found that Republicans candidates’ faith was discussed seven times more than Democrats.
Another Newsbusters post pointed out some comments made by NBC's David Gregory about whether Romney's faith will be an issue. "But I think it's an issue, I mean, I think a lot of people have questions about the Mormon faith," Gregory said. "There's a lot of ignorance about the Mormon faith. And let's be honest, this is the core of who Mitt Romney is....And yet, he doesn't talk about it." So if Romney talked about his faith more often, would reporters cover it less?
"It's the core of who he is, and yet he doesn't feel like it's safe to talk about....I've seen some polling that suggests even more Democrats than Republicans are uncomfortable with the notion of a Mormon president," Gregory said, according to the post. "I think he's got to talk about that at some level....the Mormon faith this is a tremendous commitment that he has. And yet, I think he feels apprehensive about talking about it openly."
I wonder if reporters don't cover President Obama's faith talks much because he talks about it so often. Obama's remarks on Jesus, the resurrection, faith and works at events like the prayer breakfast, Easter breakfast, etc. seem to get a snore from reporters. If Romney mentioned Jesus, it would be interesting to see the coverage.
Honest questions for our readers: How many times do you remind readers of a candidate's faith? When a poll comes out saying some Americans believe Obama is a Muslim? When Mormons perform baptisms for the famous dead, does Romney get pulled into it? How often do you remind people of a candidate's theology, practices, past statements, differences from other faiths, etc. For instance, if we talk about why evangelicals disagree with Romney's Mormon faith, should reporters also talk about why evangelicals disagree with Obama's United Church of Christ background? None of these are rhetorical questions. Please weigh in.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.