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Right Turn
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 04/17/2012

Is it open season on Mormonism?

The BuzzFeed piece is misleadingly titled,”Why Ann stayed home.” In fact the reporter, McKay Coppins (who has identified himself as a Mormon), reveals nothing about her motivations. That, rather, appears to be the “hook” for a discourse asserting the Mormon faith is discriminatory and oppressive toward women. Ann wasn’t interviewed. The Romney campaign didn’t comment for his report. And the reporter doesn’t indicate he tried to reach either. The piece foreshadows, I fear, of what is to come — effort to portray Mormons as weirdly out of step and unmodern, and by implication, Romney as being unfit for the presidency.

The premise of the piece, that Mormonism was the motivation for Ann Romney’s decision to stay home, is defeated in the first graph: “Ann Romney was already fully immersed in stay-at-home motherhood — raising five sons, ages six to 16, in her Belmont home — when Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson took to a pulpit on February 22, 1987 and delivered a definitive sermon on gender roles in the church titled, “To the Mothers of Zion.” (Emphasis added.) The reporter also cites a Mormon speech lauding motherhood from the late 1970s, after the birth of several of the Romney boys.

So what is the point then of the piece, which goes on to paint Mormons as condescending and backward thinking when it comes to gender? (“These doctrinally-defined gender roles aren’t entirely unique — they’ve been preached by various sects for centuries — but Mormons have proven uniquely unwilling to bend them to fit modern times.”)

Does Mitt Romney believe in all that stuff ? Well that would be the only real relevance to the voters and the predominate conclusion of many readers I fear, namely to suggest that Mormon religious views (and in turn Romney’s) on gender are unacceptable in modern society. (This is after all a political blog, not a Web site on comparative religion.) Again, did the reporter try to interview Romney or ask the campaign about his views? The reporter sure doesn’t indicate that he did. Is there anything in Romney’s record to suggest he believes this? The reporter identifies none. And if there is no connection with Romney’s views or records, why should it be a problem? Or even the subject of political punditry?

Moreover, it is laughable to infer Romney is some sort of anti-woman-in-the-workplace throw-back. As Ann Romney described in her interview with me, Romney has had high-level women at his right hand at Bain Capital, the Olympics, in the governorship and in his campaign.

This is not the only time Coppins argued that his religious affiliation would be problematic in the campaign. On an appearance last week on MSNBC, he told Andrea Mitchell:

Yeah, well, the Mormon church for most of its history did not allow black men into the priesthood. That ban was lifted in 1978, but the church struggles with the legacy of discriminatory policies. There are also verses in Mormon scripture that teach that dark skin is a curse from an angry god and Mormon leaders used to teach that black people were less valiant or less righteous in a pre-mortal life. Now, none of these things are widely believed anymore in the church, but as I wrote at Buzz Feed an increasing number of voices in the black community, are saying that Mitt Romney needs to speak out and condemn this because he was alive when these things were still being taught to him.

A number of them (five or 5,000)? Are these supporters of President Obama who don’t much like Romney’s views on anything? (Being alive when your faith’s leaders took certain positions is an interesting criterion for assessing one’s views and responsibilities.)

The Obama team won’t touch this stuff with 10-foot poll. And so long as they have press people who will carry the message (and retweet and link) questioning Romney’s views on race and gender because he is a Mormon, it doesn’t have to.

In an Twitter exchange Coppins insisted the piece was not anti-Mormon (“I’d hardly classify that story as ‘anti-Mormon.’ ”) You judge the portrayal of Mormon views and whether the piece (consistent with Coppins’ other efforts) portrays Mormonism as a liability for Romney.

Now, no one should conclude that because the author of a piece shares the religious affiliation of the group with whom he is critiquing he has free rein to impugn and smear. Jewish journalists did not have free rein to intimate Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was anti-woman because of some Orthodox Jews’ views on gender. It is incumbent on responsible journalists to judge individuals’ fitness for public office not entire religions.

If someone wants to sit down with the Romneys and quiz them on how their religious views influence their politics, that would be fair . But of course Romney was asked that question in multiple incarnations in the debates. However, to take an entire faith, infer its creed has ominous political implications and then label it a “problem” for a candidate of that faith is dodgy stuff.

The editor in chief of BuzzFeed, Ben Smith, responded: “I don’t think the latest on Ann is anti-Mormon. It’s a story about the religious context of her choice. I found it deeply knowledgeable and especially effective at bringing in voices that I hadn’t read elsewhere from within the Mormon faith. I thought it was an extremely rich and fair-minded piece, and we were proud to run it.” The Romney camp declined comment for this piece.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 04/17/2012

 
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