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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Media Bias on Mormonism

*Note: These articles are not the most recent, but the same principles apply to LDS press coverage this week as two weeks ago, two months ago, or to future LDS press coverage.

ABC News story Mormons for Obama Say Romney Doesn't Represent Them and Yahoo news story
Road Trip: Mormon-in-chief? Latter-day Saints talk about what a President Romney would mean to them by Yahoo news both leave much to be desired. Sure, they interviewed some Mormons, but are they reflective of the entire 6 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in the United States? I'll compare their responses to those found by the Pew Foundation concerning how Mormons feel about their time in the limelight and political affiliations, released back in January. It's not a perfect comparison, but it will have to do in absence of a more recent study.

ABC news is easily dealt with: they're talking about Democratic Mormons in the Seattle area specifically. According to the Pew study, Democratic Mormons comprise some 17% of Mormon Americans of the more than 6 million Mormons in the United States. The idea that a Democratic Mormon wouldn't necessarily support Romney is hardly news- not even worth a story, in my opinion. The paltry numbers identified compared with total LDS Church membership further illustrate the lack of a story there.

The ABC article barely hints that the LDS Church does not tell its members how to vote. They left out entirely that the LDS Church maintains strict political neutrality all the while encouraging members' participation in civic responsibilities such as voting. They teach members in the United States that both political platforms have worthy causes within them, and each member should vote his or her conscience having studied the issues. Again, ABC News missed a teaching opportunity there - not that they're in the business of properly educating Americans. What is newsworthy (that ABC missed) is the more interesting fact from the Pew study that some 86% of Mormon Americans support Romney even though only 74% of Mormons in the United States lean Republican, meaning that Romney does have some Democratic and independent Mormon support.

Yahoo news hid their bias better. But why raise the question of what Romney means to other Mormons unless they want people to question Romney's faith?

The first problem in their article is rather than talking to a broad representative number of LDS Americans, Yahoo takes a 'road trip' to Northern Virginia, where some 10,000 of the 90,000 LDS members of Virginia, a state of 8 million, reside. And they interview only four of them. They say they chose this place because it's a battleground state. There is some logic to that, but it still doesn't mean that it reflects the whole body of LDS Americans. I also seriously doubt that the relative handful of Mormons in Virginia (slightly over 1% of the state's population) are going to be a deciding factor in the November election in the state of Viriginia, not that I have a way to check whether the percentage of registered Mormon voters is the same as for the population. Again, nationally Romney enjoys 86% of Mormon American support, at least as of late 2011 when the Pew data was gathered.

According to Wikipedia, Northern Virginia is the Democratic hotbed for the state, having grown enough in recent decades (no doubt in part from continual expansion of the federal government ever since the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, automatically increasing all federal budgets annually regardless of revenue or necessity) to force Virginia to swing state status. I do not have access to political affiliation of the LDS population of Virginia, but according to the Pew Foundation study back in the end of 2011, 74% of Mormons in the United States identify with Republicans, compared wtih 45% of all Americans.

Three of the four Mormons interviewed for the Yahoo News article identified as Republican - though naturally enough for liberal media the Democrat Mormon's interview was placed first in the writeup. Four Mormons isn't enough to achieve statistical significance, but Pew tells us that 86% of all Mormon Americans view Romney favorably, including 56% of Mormon Democrats.
Lest you think that this is true for any Mormon politician, consider this data analsis from Pew, again from late 2011.
Two other prominent Mormon political leaders are viewed less favorably than Romney. Half of Mormon voters (50%) express a favorable view of Republican presidential candidate (and former Utah governor) Jon Huntsman Jr., while 24% express an unfavorable view and 26% have no opinion. ... Less than a quarter of Mormon voters (22%) have a favorable view of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat; 51% of Mormon voters have an unfavorable opinion of Reid while 27% express no opinion about him. 
Hinted at in Yahoo is the favorite media narrative about whether Romney should start talking more about his faith. Now, there are many, many media editorials calling for Romney to talk about his faith to humanize himself. They wonder why isn't Romney talking about it - does he have something to hide? All of this is a media trick to drive public opinion against Romney, just as they do with his tax returns or anything else. As Breitbart's John Nolte says frequently, Romney is playing chess, not checkers. Media or Obama campaign calls for Romney to do something - anything - only means they'll use it against him. Romney knows to avoid the appearance of "Pastor in Chief" since that is exactly what the Democrats want to accuse him of being.
While I appreciate the concerns those Mormons interviewed by Yahoo about public sentiment about Mormonism and Romney's current public position, these members probably little know that they were pawns. Media tools. Expressing any concerns or doubts about Romney's decisions on the campaign trail is the media's objective, not to clarify or better understand Romney's faith and its members.

It's not that these questions about the LDS Church are misplaced - it's the subtle anti-Mormon nature of the media articles. Even well before Romney clinched the nomination, the Pew Study found that a majority of Mormons think they are misunderstood. I'm with that majority.
Six-in-ten Mormons (62%) say the American people as a whole are uninformed about Mormonism. Nearly half (46%) say that Mormons face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today – which is higher than the percentage that says the same about blacks (31%) and atheists (13%). Two-thirds (68%) say the American people as a whole do not see Mormonism as part of mainstream American society. And when asked to describe in their own words the most important problems facing Mormons living in the United States today, 56% cite misperceptions about Mormonism, discrimination, lack of acceptance in American society and the like.
There is plenty of media evidence that Democrats agree and want to capitalize on the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Mormonism. The very questions raised about Romney or about how he represents his religion in the Yahoo article are planting seeds of doubt in the public concerning Romney as a Mormon president.

Just as Americans shouldn't (and mostly aren't) buying Obama's class warfare as peddled by the media, they shouldn't buy whatever the media "exposes" about the LDS Church and its members. They are not trustworthy in any issue that can be colored with a political lens, as most issues can and are so colored. Now is not the time to allow the media to divide Mormons from other Americans, or for Americans to buy all of the anti-Romney garbage embedded in most articles touching upon his faith or any other Romney-related subject. Now is the time to teach our fellow Americans about the subtle (and blatant) biases flavoring every bit of news we get from standard media. Exposing the media bias - education - is the key to unlocking the door to freedom from President Obama and his dismal economy.

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