Opinion

So ‘weird’: Mitt, Mormonism and the media

Photo of Matt Philbin
Matt Philbin
Managing Editor, Culture and Media Institute

Mitt Romney is “weird.” At least he is sometimes to some in the Obama campaign. He’s “slick,” with an “innate phoniness” and “personal awkwardness.” Oh, and just coincidentally, Romney’s a Mormon.

Back in August, as Politico reported, a “senior Obama adviser” and “about a dozen” other surrogates suddenly carpet-bombed Romney with “weird.” They weren’t worried about Romney in the general election: he’s kind of weird and the public won’t be comfortable with him.

Politico noted that “none of the Obama advisers interviewed made any suggestion that Romney’s personal qualities would be connected to his minority Mormon faith, but the step from casting Romney as a bit off to raising questions about religion may not be a large step for some of the incumbent’s supporters.”

Just a couple of days later, Obama honcho David Axelrod’s mustache twitched indignantly that “weird” was off-limits, and using the word against Romney was a fire-able offense. Of course, even the liberal Huffington Post observed the “weird” punishment “won’t apply to the numerous aforementioned advisers who have now very firmly planted the idea that Mitt Romney is ‘weird’ in the public’s consciousness.”

Of course, Axelrod can’t fire anyone at the Obama super PAC also known as “the media,” and they can do the campaign’s bidding without fear of termination. So, it would be tempting to say they got Axelrod’s “weird” hint. Except that they were way ahead of him.

The media, particularly the broadcast networks, have been mentioning Romney’s Latter Day Saints affiliation continuously for a year. “Baptism by Fire,” a special report from the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute, studied network news coverage of the GOP primary candidates’ religion during 2011. In just the first 10 months of the year, ABC, CBS and NBC mentioned Mormonism more than 100 times.

Mitt Romney has been running for president for six years. His religion is hardly news — certainly not worth over 100 mentions. So either some rare form of Tourettes is afflicting network reporters, or they think it important to reinforce the notion that Romney’s faith is, well, weird.

Now, with New Hampshire in Romney’s W column (Win, not Weird), the media is starting to gun the Mormon engine. Look no further than New York Times columnist and “Mean Girls” star Maureen Dowd’s Jan. 14 piece entitled “Mitt’s big love” (Get it? A clever reference to the show about polygamists, which Mormons used to be, and polygamy is weird, and Mitt’s a Mormon, and …), which tells readers that Romney, like Obama, has a background that makes him seem “alien and exotic to some voters.”

What’s more, “Romney’s religion pulls a curtain over parts of his life story because some important moments for Mormons are restricted to Mormons.” Dowd mentions a wedding-related ceremony involving “white robes” that Ann Romney’s parents weren’t allowed to attend because they weren’t Mormon. A religion whose rules people actually observe? Too weird for Ms. Dowd.

And to Maureen, Mitt’s story just gets weirder. “Romney recoiled from ’60s counterculture and was ‘proudly square,’” and “at Harvard, Romney was in a nondrinking, nonsmoking, suburban, uxorious bubble with Ann, revolving around Mormon rituals, Mormon couples and the Mormon credo of strong, heterosexual, traditional families.” And get this: “The parental roles were clear … Mitt would have the career, and Ann would run the house.”

Strong families practicing their faith? Heterosexuals marrying and raising children? Outlandish. How would a Maureen Dowd even begin talk with such other-worldly beings at a cocktail party? (But they don’t drink, so thankfully, she’d be spared that ordeal!)