Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Media Coverage of Romney the Day After

I have written before in my blogs about my fondness for NPR.  The radio format is helpful for my busy life; I can listen to the news while doing other things.  Moreover, the quality of the journalism is generally quite high in my opinion.  They go beyond sound bites.  They spend time on interviews of some depth.  There is a lot of investigative journalism.  It is a great resource. 
Generally, I find NPR to be pretty fair and balanced, if you’ll pardon my using that particular phrase.  Though some conservatives claim NPR is biased towards the left, I always listen close for substantive bias on particular issues, and typically I don’t detect any.  (However, I have written before that I have detected cultural biases.  See:  NPR is tough on Democrats and have defended Republicans who were attacked by others in the mainline media.  NPR was the only news outlet I heard last year to interview a historian to support Sarah Palin’s characterization of Paul Revere’s famous ride.  In my experience, they don’t seem to scrutinize the right more than the left.
Nonetheless, no one is perfect and sometimes even NPR gets it wrong.  Last Sunday was one such occasion.
They aired a report on Mitt Romney’s distant cousins in Mexico.  The report began by noting that after the LDS church banned polygamy in 1890, it “quietly” sent “selected members” to Canada and Mexico to continue practicing plural marriage.  The report then noted that Mitt Romney’s great grandfather was one of those sent.  It was noted that he had four wives and 30 children. 
Then the report continued by explaining that some of their descendants still live in Mexico about four hours from El Paso.   It was unclear from the reporter’s wording whether or not these descendants are still polygamists or not, but I finally determined I don’t think they are.  I wouldn’t be surprised if other listeners came to a different conclusion.  It was quite ambiguous.
The report included mention that the Romneys in Mexico (who were interviewed for the report) are just “distant cousins.”  Nonetheless, the report tried to undercut this fact in a couple ways.  The report stressed that the distant cousins “feel[] a blood kinship to Mitt” and have a sign on their wall that reads “Families are forever.”  That appeared to be a really cheap shot, in my opinion.  I’m not an expert on LDS theology, but I understand Mormon beliefs emphasize family ties and a belief that families will be together in the afterlife.  To me, that belief was being exploited to make it seem like there was a closer relationship between Mitt Romney and the Romneys in Mexico.  The report even included a question about “why Mitt hasn’t come down and met his family in Mexico.” 
Coupled with the ambiguity about whether the Romneys in Mexico are polygamous, the report was very unflattering.  I could imagine that it could have cultivated a negative response from listeners who were previously on the fence about Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president.  Airing the day after a historical loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, the timing of the report seemed quite odd to say the least.
The full report is available at the following link.
The LDS church embraced polygamy until 1890.  But it has now been expressly disavowed by the church for over a century.  That is longer than the church originally embraced it.  Yet I have observed that there continues to be in some segments of our society a strong suspicion that modern day LDS members are secretly polygamists.  I don’t understand that.  Yet, an irresponsible story like the one NPR aired on Sunday seems to serve no useful purpose and just encourages such suspicion.
My husband and I were working in the kitchen when the report aired and as we talked about the report afterwards.  It just seemed a pointless report aimed at frightening people into thinking Mitt Romney somehow endorses polygamy.  It was very unfair, and my husband and I were stunned that NPR would air such a piece.
It is the understanding of my husband and I that because the LDS church did at one time embrace polygamy, many modern members with deep roots in the church have ancestors who practiced plural marriages at one time.  My husband and I noted that if that is an accurate understanding,  there is a similarity to attitudes towards Germans in modern day Germany. 
During the Third Reich, many Germans were members of the Nazi Party (or offshoots like the Hitler Youth) or served in the military.  Some such Germans did it because they believed in Nazism.  But others did it for political expediency or because they were forced to do so.  (Many young men were drafted and had no choice but to fight for the Nazis.)  As a result of this history, most modern Germans are descendants of people who were Nazis.  Obviously, that doesn’t make the modern day descendants Nazis as well.  That would be ludicrous, inflammatory and incredibly unfair to suggest.
To be clear, I don’t mean to equate polygamy with genocide.  I certainly do not endorse either.  But in my view, mass torture and extermination of millions of human beings is much worse than having multiple spouses.  Though polygamy and genocide are very different, the point about the unfairness of tainting descendants with the sins of their forbearers seems apt.
During our discussion, I noted to my husband that the NPR report was equivalent to interviewing some of his family’s distant German relatives to suggest that my husband was somehow a Nazi.  My husband is vaguely aware that he has some distant relatives in Germany who did not ever follow the branch of the family that immigrated to the United States and who have always lived in Germany.  Though my husband does not know any of those distant cousins, it seems statistically likely that that branch might be descendants of some who were affiliated with the Third Reich.  However, it would be incredibly distortive (to say the least) to suggest that somehow that might make my husband a Nazi!  But perhaps if my husband ever runs for political office, he should be prepared for such an outlandish news report if NPR follows in the same vein as the report on Governor Romney’s distant cousins in Mexico.

Ephesians 4:25
Therefore, putting away lying, let every man speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

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