I think the press has woken up to what we concluded yesterday:
So, does all this really add up to Romney opening up about his Mormon faith? Frankly, I don’t see it, I see a lot of projection by a media that wants to talk about Mormonism.
A big deal was made yesterday that a Mormon will offer prayer at the convention. Today we learn that Cardinal Dolan will offer the benediction after Romney’s acceptance speech. Does this put Catholicism on parade?
They have resorted to a barrage of coverage about the non-issue, more or less daring him to talk about it. The barrage runs from the mundane to the bizarre. The Washington Post’s “On Faith” feature quotes Stephen Prothero (BU religion professor) saying someone is going to ask him about his faith at the debates. Which leaves me wondering if anyone will press Obama on Jeremiah Wright – or his lack of church affiliation during his occupancy of the White House. Reagan was pressed about the later and gave a reasonable answer. I don’t think Obama has ever been asked.
CBS wonders if the word “Mormon” will be uttered at the convention. Yes it will, by reporters that want to talk about it.
Now things turn interesting. The Broadcast nets announced their convention coverage yesterday which is quite limited, leaving it to cable. This includes the fact that Ann Romney’s convention address will not be carried, and depending on which source you read, the Dems may get an hour or two more than the Repubs. The move of convention coverage to the cable news channels has been going on for several cycles now. If it were generic – no problem – but the selectivity of coverage makes this problematic – but that’s not our issue here. What is our issue here is that NBC does seem to have available the time to run an hour long program, tomorrow night, on Mormonism. And they are complaining that Romney won’t submit to an interview for the program. Let’s see, they won’t cover his wife’s speech, but they expect him to talk about what they want him to talk about?! UPDATE: (couple of hours after original publication) ABC is contributing to this noise with a multi-parter on “World Snooze Tonight.” END UPDATE
Fifty years ago, another presidential candidate faced religious prejudice: John F. Kennedy. Fortunately for Kennedy, the media of his day strongly condemned this bigotry. On Sept. 2, 1960, The Washington Post’s editorial board called religious attacks on Kennedy “bilge,” declaring: “But there can be no doubt whatsoever that [an appeal to anti-Catholic sentiments] debases the political process and does irreparable damage to the fabric of social unity.” Two days later, The New York Times’s editorial board declared: “Millions of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and people of no formal faith will testify that prejudice cannot be endorsed in this country without doing political damage to the persons or candidates who endorse it.”
What a difference 50 years and Republican political affiliation make.
Were we treated to an hour long program on Jeremiah Wright last cycle? In point of fact, have the networks ever done an hour-long program on any religion of any candidate this close to the convention? Check this out – I sure don’t think it happened to Kennedy. With Cardinal Dolan praying at the convention, do we need that Catholic program now? “Did you know that Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine ACTUALLY becomes the body and blood of Christ!” he said somewhat sarcastically aping a breathless TV reporter.
This program really is a clear attempt by the media to set the agenda for the convention and the campaign to follow. That is not really news – they have tried it before – in fact they usually try it. This particular attempt is outrageous and unprecedented; however, in the nature of the agenda it attempts to set. Prior efforts have focused on attempting to develop an issue set that favored the media’s chosen, if unspoken, selection of a candidate. Thus we heard about war protesters and draft dodgers when Nixon ran, but this is very different – this is religion. More, this is personal.
This is a sad day for the news media. One could argue that the efforts to set the agenda on issues was somehow informative, if slanted in its information. But this identity politics pure and simple. They seek not to inform us about the issues that face the nation we live in, but solely to form the image of one of the candidates. The pretense of news is now completely gone. All that is left is electioneering.
Last cycle they succeeded in these efforts because they were ably assisted by Romney’s primary opponents, or at least one of them. They have had no such assistance this cycle – at least not yet. But given how empty the quiver of Romney’s opponent actually is, one wonders what the future holds.
Let’s close one a lighter note…. There is one more “dare you” story to link – from the “bizarre” department, there is Tom Hayden. The sarcastic remarks I am tempted to make here are a little too acid. Better let it lie.
Lowell adds . . .
John’s post is dead-on. I’ll just add one positive note about this piece by the ever-perceptive Joel Kotkin, which describes well Romney’s dilemma regarding Mormonism. Kotkin sings the praises of the State of Utah and its many successes, which he quite reasonably attributes to Mormon influences there. He thinks Romney should make something of this in the campaign:
In the end, Utah’s Mormon-created reality is bigger than one relentlessly ambitious man’s foibles and tax dodges; Mormonism is the enterprise that transformed a desert province into a productive garden. That’s the story that Romney needs to share between now and November. If he fails, we might see a more appealing Mormon, Jon Hunstman, remind us of this success story in 2016.
I disagree about Huntsman, who will never hold Republican elective office again, but also disagree that Romney should start pointing to Mormonism’s successes as an elixir for what ails the country. As John makes clear above, that is exactly what the news media want to do. Once Romney starts talking positively about one aspect of Mormonism, everything else is fair game: Mormon feminism, prior policy regarding African-Americans, distinctive beliefs, and probably even Romney’s underwear. We cannot blame the Governor one bit for not wanting to dive down that rabbit hole.