The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Finding Balance in Reporting about Mormons

By Campbell, Joel | Editor & Publisher, December 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Finding Balance in Reporting about Mormons


Campbell, Joel, Editor & Publisher


As a professional journalist and a Mormon the level of negative rhetoric about my faith in the news media recently amazes me.

As I review the good, the bad and the ugly written about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a truism seems to hold. Just like the public at large, the more reporters and pundits know Mormons (or have attempted to understand them) the less likely they are to use stereotypes, frame Mormons as "wacky" and turn to non-Mormons to answer questions about what Mormons believe.

Don't get me wrong, I am not writing to support Romney's campaign, I am just asking for more balance in reporting.

Unfortunately, a majority of American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reside in the West and most of the national media is in the East. Many national pundits and reporters don't know Mormons very well. Howard Kurtz, Washington Post media critic, recognizes the problems and suggests that the lack of Mormon journalists could be a factor.

Even so, there are examples of both good and bad. When I say "good," I am talking here about professional standards of fairness, objectivity and going to Mormons or those who understand Mormons well as sources to provide balance and context. Even better, reporters draw upon first-hand experiences with Mormons. One Wisconsin newspaper reporter even attended church services, which are open to the public.

I don't expect puff pieces, but I do expect thorough reporting, good sourcing and fair play. Even in opinion columns, pundits shouldn't be content with lazy research on the Web or with convenient sources.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for journalism is just that. Cases in point: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's ugly portrait of Mormons is filled with stereotypes and relies on dubious expert John Krakauer. Lawrence O'Donnell's rant on national television and Christopher Hitchens' mocking harangue were offensive on many levels. Even, Editor & Publisher recently quoted Arizona Republic cartoonist and ex-Mormon Steve Benson with no balance from believers. Does our nation tolerate such denigration of Judaism or Catholicism?

Moreover, journalists draw distinctions in other subtle ways. Why is it that the adjectives used in covering the Romney campaign nearly always include "Republican, former Massachusetts governor and Mormon?" What is the justification for applying the religious label when, for other candidates, their religious affiliation is rarely mentioned? There is a double standard.

Romney's faith is often framed as a negative, while Hilary Clinton's rediscovery of her faith has hailed as a positive. A quick survey of recent articles shows a journalistic penchant for quoting Evangelicals to define Mormonism. Shouldn't Mormons be allowed to define themselves?

At the same time, headlines such as "Can a Mormon be President? …

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