Lawrence O'Donnell is a bigot, pure and simple.
He's bigoted against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he clearly demonstrated in an appearance earlier this week on the syndicated political-discussion show "The McLaughlin Group."
And, in all likelihood, he'll suffer few if any consequences.
If O'Donnell had spouted an inflammatory, inaccurate rant against Jews, Catholics or Baptists, he'd be a pariah. MSNBC, where he's a senior political analyst, would have fired him. But anti-Mormon bigotry is one of the few remaining acceptable prejudices on TV. (That and anti-Muslim bigotry.)
O'Donnell's outburst came in the midst of a discussion about Mitt Romney's recent speech about religious tolerance a speech O'Donnell called "the worst political speech of my lifetime."
He didn't really talk much about the speech over the next 3 1/2 minutes. Instead, he branded Mormons in general as racists because blacks were not given the priesthood until 1978.
"This man stood there and said to you, 'This is the faith of my fathers.' And ... none of these commentators who liked this speech realized that the faith of his fathers is a racist faith," O'Donnell said. "As of 1978 it was an officially racist faith, and for political convenience in 1978 it switched. And it said, 'OK, black people can be in this church.' He believes, if he believes the faith of his fathers, that black people are black because in heaven they turned away from God, in this demented, Scientology-like notion of what was going on in heaven."
Whatever you think of the LDS Church denying the priesthood to some of its members before 1978, it's inaccurate to say that blacks were not allowed as members until then. And, given the forcefulness of his diatribe, you'd think O'Donnell might have gotten his facts straight.
O'Donnell, a former aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Democratic staffer on two Senate committees, is also an Emmy-winning writer/producer of "The West Wing." And he plays an LDS lawyer on the HBO series "Big Love."
Just reading his words doesn't convey the forcefulness of O'Donnell's rant. Throughout, he was pointing his finger at the camera and other panelists as his tone went from strong to strident to almost hysterical.
O'Donnell managed to make fellow panelist Pat Buchanan seem calm and reasonable. He dodged when Buchanan asked if Romney's "Mormonism disqualifies him from being president."
Instead, O'Donnell continued his attack. "When he talks about the faith of his father, how about the faith of his grandfather, who had five wives?" he said.
"My great-grandfather had slaves and I don't believe in slavery," Buchanan said.
"His religion believed in slavery. Did yours?" O'Donnell shot back.
Actually, members of mainstream Christian faiths ran the slave trade in America before the Civil War. As Buchanan pointed out, "Christianity condoned slavery for 1,500 years."
It was up to right-wing Buchanan and left-wing columnist Eleanor Clift to sound notes of sanity.
"Every religion has had its scandals, and I don't think we hold everybody who follows a religion responsible for all of the negative things that went on," Clift said. "I am not comfortable with dissing an entire religion."
Make no mistake about it, O'Donnell did not simply attack Romney, he attacked The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"His religion is based on the work of a lying, fraudulent criminal named Joseph Smith," O'Donnell said, "who was a racist. Who was pro-slavery." (Actually, Smith ran for president on an anti-slavery platform.)
And later, O'Donnell nearly shouted, "Romney comes from a religion that was founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery and a rapist!"
He didn't explain that one.
Again, imagine for a moment that O'Donnell had said this about members of other religions. He'd never be on TV again.
E-mail: [email protected]