Jason Horowitz, the enterprising Washington Post reporter who broke the story about Mitt Romney’s high school “pranks,” cracked another window into camp Romney on Friday. Romney aides challenge media coverage of Mormonism by asking journalists to compare their stories to hypothetical coverage of Jewish candidates.
Horowitz explained the approach in an opinion column:
“Our test to see if a similar story would be written about others’ religion is to substitute ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish,’ ” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in objection to [an] article…about the candidate’s role as a church leader in Boston. She pointed out a passage that explained [the Mormon] belief that Christ’s true church was restored after centuries of apostasy when the 19th-century prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates that he discovered in Upstate New York. “Would you write this sentence in describing the Jewish faith: ‘Jews believe their prophet Moses was delivered tablets on a mountain top directly from G-d after he appeared to him in a burning bush,’ ” Saul wrote in a November e-mail. “Of course not, yet you reference a similar story in Mormonism.”
Saul has a point. While religious pluralism is a popular ideal, and the press strives for objectivity in campaign coverage, some religions are covered as more exotic or dangerous than others. This cycle, few major candidates have been pressed as frequently about the tenets of their faith as Romney. President Obama, for his part, has been repeatedly “accused” of practicing Islam (as if that were a bad thing). The notion of a Jewish “test” for campaign coverage will rub some the wrong way,* but it may also bluntly cut through the semiotics of debates over balanced religious treatment.
For example, many media types (and liberals) defended the infamous New Yorker cover lampooning Muslim caricatures about Obama by arguing it was (a) just light satire or (b) actually a spoof of the people attacking Islam—a chance to “ridicule the lies,” (as one New Yorker writer argued).