So far we have avoided quoting what Gawker said, for fear of disseminating further what we consider to be sloppy, calloused journalism — at best. But there is more information now, and to put the sorry episode in full perspective, here’s what the author, John Cook, originally wrote:
Gawker’s substantial Mormon readership has come through for us: Two readers have sent us confirmation that Edward Davies, Mitt Romney’s militantly atheist father-in-law, was indeed posthumously converted to Mormonism by his family, despite the fact that when he was alive he regarded all religions as “hogwash.”
(Emphasis added.) My first thought on reading that was, “How does one describe the deceased father in-law of a presidential candidate as ‘militantly atheist’ based on anonymous sources?”
As John writes in another post below, the Gawker author was simply wrong. Today, Gawker was forced to correct its story in response to the following e-mail from Jim Davies, Ann Romney’s brother and Edward Davies’ son:
I’m not sure about the law’s position on slander or libel vis a vis someone who is dead, but my father’s reputation matters a great deal to me, and your correspondent’s contention that my father was an atheist is blatantly false. I demand that the record be corrected and that you print a retraction. If you or someone would care to contact me on the issue I will be happy to give you the facts. Dad had faith in God, or a higher power, or something much bigger than himself, but saw organized religion as something man-made. Does that sound like a “committed atheist” or a “resolute atheist”? We had numerous conversations on the topic. I am truly astonished at the irresponsibility and callousness of your publication.
In addition to these inaccuracies, he worked on the Apollo program, not Gemini. There is so much conjecture and outright fantasy in these contentions, I am absolutely astonished. If I were this sloppy in my work as an ophthalmologist there is no way I could maintain a credible practice—or maintain a license to practice.
It is also beyond my comprehension (and I presume that you view your “Gawker” as a legitimate source for “news”) that your reporter would not even make the effort to make a phone call to confirm a story that is bound to get so much play in the media. Or, is it possible that you and yours are agenda-driven, and that your intent is to smear a candidate?
Mr. Cook, the author, seems quite defensive in his response:
My claim that [Edward Davies] was an atheist was based on the following:
- Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that “Mr. Davies, who also served as mayor of the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, rebelled against his strict upbringing as a Welsh Congregationalist and became strongly opposed to all organized religion. ‘He would say: ‘I’m a scientist, show me the proof’,’ recalled [a former colleague].”
- In 2007, the Boston Globe quoted Edward’s son Roderick saying that “Dad considered people who were religious to be weak in the knees.” The Globe further reported that Edward had “absolutely no use for religion,” regarded it as “drudgery and hogwash,” and “insisted [that his wife] give up organized religion” before marrying her.
We will not belabor this further, except to note this: If these Telegraph and Globe reports are the evidence on which Mr. Cook relies, it is very difficult to see how he concludes that Edward Davies was “militantly atheist.” Agnostic, yes; but opposition to organized religion and a demand for scientific proof do not an atheist make. Maybe the type of writer who uses the term “voodoo” to describe the Mormon beliefs in question, as Mr. Cook also did in his Gawker piece, is also one who places a higher value on snarkiness than on fairness, accuracy, or decency. That seems to have been the case here.
John Says – A Mere Taste Of The Indecency To Come
Let’s look at just two paragraphs from the Gawker post, written before any corrections:
Of course this is all empty superstition, as Davies realized. Being dead, he wasn’t particularly in a place to care about whatever voodoo was performed in his name. But it’s an exceedingly odd way for the Romney family to honor the memory of a man who was committed, for his entire life, to the notion that organized religion is a fraud.
The Mormon church has repeatedly been criticized for its practice of trawling for dead souls to convert to the faith. Catholic and Jewish organizations have expressed outrage when the names of dead popes and Holocaust victims have turned up on Mormon lists of the baptized. In 1995, the church pledged to “discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews” except for direct descendents of living Mormons, tacitly acknowledging that its creepy and weird to claim the souls of people who had no interest in Mormonism for their own. It’s strange that the Romney and Davies families didn’t accord Edward Davies’ memory the same respect.
Consider the language in those paragraphs, “superstition,” “voodoo,” “odd way,” “trawling,” creepy,” “weird” and “strange.” These words lack simple respect. Yesterday I talked about posthumous rituals bringing comfort to the survivors and said:
These stories stomp upon and ridicule a source of comfort to the still living members of the Davies clan. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, “Christian” about such an action. These stories are simply inhumane. Most of the Mormon stuff written in this and the last campaign was wrong, but that is politics. This particular line of inquiry is simply shameful.
That is frankly the most important consideration, but this words are disrespectful of religion generally. What makes Mormonism “voodoo” and Catholic infant baptism “generally accepted practice?” Well, there are only three choices. One, you’re, say, Catholic and find Mormonism heretical. We’ll get back to this in a minute. Two, you believe all religion to be “voodoo.” Fair enough, but that also says if you are one of the people in the first category, you should be defending the Mormons because your practice is, in the eyes of the second category, just as “weird” as theirs. At a minimum a person of a faith that finds Mormonism errant should temper their vocabulary out of simple decency. (Looks like some Catholics agree with me.)
But the third reason a person might make a “voodoo” type judgment is simple political expediency. Now, political attacks of that sort are an indiscriminate weapon – once fired they are going to hit everything that remotely resembles the target. (Taking us back to the second category.) Then there is the fact that we on the Republican side of the aisle are suckers if we fall for this – such divisions only weaken us.
It’s this last category that tells us the most important political takeaway form this incident – it’s foreshadowing. Look for the Obamaites to unleash a barrage of this kind of disrespectful, indiscriminate, indecent, and personally harmful attack.
This is going to get really ugly.