It's easy to poke fun of politicians and religion -- some news outlets excel at it. In the end, though, cheap shot journalism -- one that is not fair-minded, balanced, or honest -- represents the crumbling of a vital relationship between freedom of expression and democratic civics.
Surveys tell us that distrust of mainstream media remains at the bottom of respectability.
Now, instread of taking the high ground, and treating the public seriously, much of the media stands around wringing its hands. It's business as usual. But making fun of someone's faith is hitting below the belt. In the end, taking on a person's belief system distracts from electing a president with integrity and vision. In the Newsweek article that accompanies the image, the writer even asks if Mormonism is a Christian faith. There is an assumption here based on the image as well as in the reportage that Romney's faith makes him unfit to govern.
The media, like a school yard bully, plays a critical role in giving this nation a president "it" thinks it deserves. Bombast and senstationalism appear tools of the trade.
Trying to understand a complex issue is never easy, but there is no excuse for not giving a candidate a chance to defend themselves. . Not a lot of people understand Mormonism, maye they understand the faith less than they do Islam. Religion is often the target of satire because it is based on differing belief systems. Connecting Romney's faith to his ability to govern undermines the public's ability to assess his competency as a future president.
As many public relations specialists will say, negative press is better than no press at all. But there is something inexpliably wrong here. The digitally altered image of Mitt Romney dancing around is a spin on the current Broadway play "The Book of Mormon." The mash up is supposed to be satrical, and suppose it is. But there is something else at work here. How is possible to make an informed decision about a candidate when the media has already visually defamed them? Yes, it's funny, but selecting a U.S. president is not. The Newsweek cover featuring Romney, the dancing Mormon, deflects from a larger and more critical debate about religion and politics in this country. For decades the media has treated the two forces as separate, but politics and religion are hard wired into our system of discourse and governance.
The first repsonse to a critique such as this one is that wouldn't be the first time politicians have been accosted verbally or visually through media satire. During Obama's campaign he was attacked by the right-wing press as being a Muslim. The smear campaign was aimed planting a seed of doubt -- The attacked attempted to make a connection between the candidate and extremists. Now, Romney's faith is under attack because Mormonism is a mystery for many Americans. When we don't understand something, we make fun of it. That's the way it works. Guilt by association, or in this case faith.