Mitt Romney's defeat discussed at Mormon Media Studies Symposium

Published: Monday, Nov. 15 2010 11:45 a.m. MST

PROVO, Utah — Did unreported factors contribute to the demise of Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign?

How did the news media cover the 1967-68 presidential campaign of his father, George Romney?

Two research projects presented to an audience of more than 100 people at BYU's Mormon Media Studies Symposium recently compared the two Romneys' campaigns.

BYU professors John Gee and Louis C. Midgley titled their paper, "Under the Media's Nose: Overlooked Factors Undermining the Presidential Campaign of Mitt Romney.

The paper, presented by Gee, provided history and background on a culture of spiritual warfare waged by evangelicals against other denominations that view themselves as Christian but are deemed cults by evangelicals.

"They are against what they see as cults … and define themselves as counter-cults," Gee said. "They have been attacking Latter-day Saints for years."

As an example, Gee told of an instance some years ago when Mormons and evangelicals attempted to band together against pornography in Philadelphia, but the evangelicals couldn't stand to be in the same room with the Mormons. "They found pornography to be more tolerable than the Latter-day Saints," Gee said.

When Romney was pushing for the Republican nomination, Gee cited examples of counter-cult activity by the John McCain and Mike Huckabee campaigns. These politicians would slip false information about Mormons into a casual message. Because the false information was borderline sensational, it would be reported by the news media.

Following reaction by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the politician would issue an apology, but by then it was too late.

"The damage was already done and no one is going to remember the apology. Huckabee knew exactly what he was doing," Gee said. "They used this to get Romney out of the way because he seemed to be a fair, formidable opponent."

By understanding how this issue played a role in Romney's campaign, Gee hopes counter-cult propaganda will be recognized in the future, especially by members of the media.

"They need to know some of these things that have been going on that haven't been covered, the way the coded language and off-hand remarks can be inserted in," Gee said.

Lane Williams, a communications professor at BYU-Idaho, said his research supported the findings of Gee and Midgely.

"One of the observations I've had about coverage of Mormons over the years is what has been left out. It's almost more interesting than what is included," Williams said. "Reporters were willing to say evangelicals think Mormons are a cult — it was sort of a legitimate way to say evangelicals didn't want to vote for Mormons."

Williams's paper was titled, "The Evangelist: Missionaries, Model Minorities and Contrasts with Mitt in the Coverage of George Romney's 1967-68 Presidential Campaign," and focused more on how the press covered the Romney campaign, the second major LDS presidential candidate since Joseph Smith in 1844.

Williams displayed photos and newspaper clippings that documented how George Romney's campaign was portrayed in the media. Williams said Romney's support dropped as the news media covered him in ways it didn't cover Richard Nixon.

"Nixon stayed in the background — sensing the new dynamic of reporting that ultimately imperiled the Romney campaign," Williams said before quoting from Theodore White's book, "The Making of the President."

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