Covering Roy Moore: Is it impossible for many reporters to write fairly about him?

I would like to be a fly on the wall in the U.S. Senate chambers if and when former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore takes office early next year. It’s been less than a week since he won the Republican primary and in deep-red-state Alabama, the winner of the GOP primary is basically the person who’s going to win the general election in November.

Maybe I shouldn’t be amazed at the scare tactic coverage that has popped up since Moore won, but tmatt was 100 percent prophetic when he called the ensuring coverage Handmaid’s Tale 2.0

Salon actually cited “The Handmaid’s Tale” in its Sunday piece on Moore.

I interviewed Moore years ago in Gadsden, Ala., and was struck by this man’s adherence not so much to the Bible (which he definitely holds dear) but to the Constitution. That’s what many reporters seem to not understand about this man. He is manic on obeying the letter of the law, so when he told the state probate judges in early 2016 to not issue marriage licenses to gay couples, his reasoning was because -- in his view of the laws in his state -- an Alabama court had to first rule on it. Agree with him or not, his stated reasons for what he does are legal as well as biblical. In other words, there are arguments here that need to be covered by journalists.

So, to allege, as Salon does, that Moore wants a theocracy, is untrue. Moore is not asking to bring back Old Testament law. He wants adherence to constitutional precepts. The fact some may align with what the Bible says is helpful, but not essential.

Roy Moore's victory in Alabama's Republican Senate primary is cause for widespread consternation, both within the GOP, which sees him as further evidence of widening divides within the party, and within the chattering classes more broadly, which don't know quite what to make of him. They can cite a litany of outrageous things Moore has said or done, but aside from unhelpfully calling him a “Christian conservative” or an “extremist,” they're at a loss as to what he's up to and why.
Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, who has written about Moore for more than a decade, put it bluntly: “Roy Moore is the most openly theocratic politician in national life,” he said in a press release from the Institute for Public Accuracy. “Moore favors criminalizing abortion and homosexuality. Like the nullificationists of the last century, Moore does not view the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal courts as binding on the states. Particularly if they conflict with his idiosyncratic view of what God requires.”

I wish journalists could see a different side of this man other than the monster-in-the-woods kind of guy. Here’s someone who actually has a sense of humor (he rode a horse to his polling place last Tuesday) so can we leave off portraying the guy as the next Adolf Hitler?

A Religion News Service story on him laid out five points about Moore’s faith (i.e. he’s a Southern Baptist –- no great mystery there). The fourth point, that he believes Islam is a false religion is a non-starter. A lot of folks, including ex-Muslims believe that as well. (And others in various world religions believe that –- pick one –- Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, you-name-it, are likewise false.)

Point five, that Moore denies the theory of evolution: This is news? Forty-two percent of all Americans agree with him, so it’s hard to get worked up over that.

Few, if any scribes seem to understand this man. Here’s someone who was outspent by $30 million to $2.5 million, yet he won the primary.

Five minutes into his acceptance speech and after thanking a bevy of campaign workers, he added that he’d like to thank someone “who’d done for my campaign than anybody” and then launched into a long quote from Isaiah.

 The whole room said “Amen” and applauded. His wife, Kayla, was in a sparkly red sleeveless dress with silver cross-shaped earrings. On the eve of her husband’s victory, she wears openly religious garb. For many reporters, that seems to make these Southerners Neanderthals. How do you cover a man's campaign if that is your starting point?

Where are the writers who get why Alabamians have consistently voted for this man, who has won (by my count) five elections against vastly better-funded opponents? What does Moore understand about Southerners, and especially those in his home state, that others don’t? What does Moore understand about a large percentage of his fellow Christians that elite GOP leaders don't get?

As I comb through Moore’s bio on Wikipedia, I see a lot of angles that no one’s covered. What I fear is that reporters are going to stick to the same narrative of Moore as an “extremist” (see this Slate piece) without digging into what about him appeals to a lot of people. How many other folks could have grabbed a Senate seat at the age of 70?

Moore was not a one-dimensional man when I interviewed him and he isn’t now. Here’s a person who’s been kicked off the state supreme court twice because of his beliefs, yet he keeps making comebacks. I’m waiting to read some profiles written by reporters who can refrain from the name-calling and try to understand this man who refuses to give up. 

This Politico story (by a writer based in Birmingham) is close to what I'm talking about; a piece that takes Moore at face value; acknowledges his genius at politics and actually quotes academics from Alabama universities instead of trotting out the Southern Poverty Law Center for predictable quotes. 

Where there's a will, there's a way. Journalism is a lot more interesting when reporters seek some diversity in the sources they quote.

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