Sarah Pulliam Bailey has an insightful critique of how political reporters drove the coverage the Values Voter Summit last week. In short, she argues that political reporters took old news and turned it into big news. She writes:
If you have been paying attention to religion and politics for at least the last four years, you know that Jeffress’ belief that Mormonism is a cult isn’t terribly newsworthy to religion reporters. I tweeted about the endorsement because I thought it was something to note but not something to write a story about. Jeffress has been saying these things for quite a while now and political reporters are just now taking notice…
Romney’s Mormonism may still be an issue for many GOP primary voters, and we still need to explore those implications. If Romney is the GOP candidate, it will be pretty interesting to see what that means for religion reporters. Will editors begin to perk up and realize they need people on staff who understand the intricacies of religion? Or will we watch political reporters stumble along with their copy of Mormonism for Dummies?
I was not at the Values Voter Summit, but I noted a certain amount of what Pulliam Bailey is talking about when I watched news anchors interviewing Jeffress. In every interview, I was singularly unimpressed with the anchors’ grasp of the issues. Many of them ventured into theological territory but were obviously ill-equipped to go there.
Anderson Cooper, for example, could not fathom how anyone could consider Mormonism to be a non-Christian religion. Cooper had read a little bit from the LDS website, and he observed that Mormons claim the Christian mantle. For him, that settled the entire issue. Everyone should just take the LDS church’s word for it. That seems to me a bit naïve, even for an anchor who wants to position himself as a disinterested observer.