Monday, October 30, 2006
The Boston Globe's Romney/Mormon Church Conspiracy Theory: Journalism or Politics?
I live in Utah and write political commentary. I’m also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—commonly known as the Mormon Church. So it shouldn’t be surprising that recent reports in The Boston Globe caught my attention. Allegations of Mitt Romney’s political action committee and Mormon Church leaders collaborating in a sinister plot to drum-up support for Romney’s unannounced presidential campaign sounded interesting.
But my interest soon shifted from alleged campaign infractions to obvious journalistic infractions. Theoretically, news is published only if it’s factual, balanced and fair. I guess in this case The Globe thought one out of three was close enough.
I’ll give The Globe credit for printing the facts, though I had to wade through a lot of innuendo to find them. What’s the factual bottom line buried in the more than 3000 words that comprise the two stories? It’s that the dean and associate dean of a Mormon Church-owned business school sent an e-mail to 150 graduates and friends of the school. The e-mail asked recipients to respond if they were interested in participating in Romney’s campaign. The school is part of the Church’s nonprofit, tax-exempt business structure and such political engagement can invalidate tax-exempt status. School management was informed of the potential violation, admitted the mistake, vowed it would not be repeated, and agreed to ignore all responses to the e-mail.
It’s also factual that before the e-mail was distributed, Don Stirling—a consultant for Romney’s political action committee—was in a group who met with Jeffrey Holland—a high ranking official of the Mormon Church. A few days later, Stirling was in a dinner group that included the associate dean of the business school. Stirling also wrote an e-mail of his own to the chief executive of the Church-owned publishing company, and in that e-mail, implied that Holland supported using the business school mailing list to enlist support for Romney.
It’s with this second group of facts that unbalanced Globe innuendo comes into play. When you read the account, you can’t escape the impression that Holland was orchestrating a sinister plot on behalf of the Church, despite the fact that Holland emphatically denies it. Romney’s political action committee agrees with Holland, attributing the mistaken impression to the fact that political consultant Stirling “got over enthusiastic and overstepped his bounds.”
The Globe neglected to point out that a political consultant might have a tendency to “spin” a meeting as something more than it really was. And there was no mention of the fact that nearly everyone has had a meeting experience where every participant left with a different opinion of what was said in the meeting. The Globe’s failure to provide this context makes it a very unbalanced account.
As to the fairness of the reporting, consider that The Globe ran an Associated Press report on July 11, 2004 that opened with this sentence:
“NAACP chairman Julian Bond condemned Bush administration policies…. imploring members of the nation's oldest civil rights organization to increase voter turnout to oust the president from office.”
The NAACP enjoys the same nonprofit, tax-exempt status as the Mormon Church. It has more than 500,000 members. Chairman Bond’s comments were made in a heavily attended NAACP meeting and were widely distributed through the media to millions of Americans.
So, if The Globe thought a politically oriented e-mail sent to 150 Mormons was a significant violation of tax-exempt status, how did The Globe react when the NAACP communicated its political agenda to millions? I think you know the answer. Let’s just politely say that the response to the Mormon e-mail was disproportionate and unfair.
I hope it’s as clear to you as it is to me that The Globe only objects to political engagement by nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations when the political ideology engaged in is not acceptable to The Globe. So the next time you read something about Mitt Romney in The Boston Globe check to see if it’s factual, balanced and fair. You’ll need to, because The Globe has proven that sometimes journalistic standards mean nothing when political ideology is at stake.