Thursday, November 11, 2010

What happens when we employ journalism of assertion sans attribution

One of today’s sessions of the Mormon Media Studies Symposium delved into the struggles of Mormon politicians. Though I, as I’m sure many others are, am well aware of the general hostility mainstream culture seems to harbor for those of the LDS faith, I had never before realized exactly why the American public reacts so poorly to Mormon politicians. But scholars John Gee and Lane Williams analyzed the Romney family’s situation, and came up with a probable answer.

Gee took an in-depth look at how the American perception of Mormonism has changed and evolved over the years in his research, detailing how sects of Protestantism have split, merged and split again to create a recent movement Gee has called the “counter cult” movement. Williams used a compare and contrast method, looking at George Romney’s campaign, which was almost successful, and comparing it to Mitt Romney’s campaign, which collapsed over the course of a single year.

They came to the same conclusion: Mormons are disliked because there is doubt in the typical American’s mind as to whether the LDS faith is a Christian faith. Gee showed how through history “hate-mongering” publications have classified Mormonism as a cult, and Williams demonstrated one of the key differences between two campaigns was their position before and after the “counter-cult” movement.

And both said the press was largely the cause of Mitt Romney’s failure. While the press often brought up the question of whether or not Mormons are Christian during his campaign, the press never acknowledged who first asked that question—the counter-cult movement, which was led by an individual whose stated goal was to destroy the LDS faith by taking away Mormons’ rights as American citizens.

It all goes back to what we’ve been talking about in class. A little more digging and a few less assumptions could have led to a whole different outcome. But instead of dispelling malicious lies about the church, the press perpetuated them, asking a question that caused the American public to remember sermons taught about how Mormons did not deserve the right to vote, much less to hold office.

There’s a lesson in there for us student journalists, I think.

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