Fox 13 in Memphis and conservative commentator Ben Ferguson
are taking some national heat for a Wednesday segment
that appears to poke fun at the Mormon religion. The website Mediaite inducted
the segment into its "Great Moments in Journalism":
"What were they thinking in the morning meeting? The Fox station in Memphis decided to send reporter Ben Ferguson
out to get some "political perspective" by jokingly interviewing the
always intelligent and reliable "people on the street," and ask them
questions like this: "can you name the candidate for president who
thinks if he's a good person he will get his own planet?" One MOS
(that's Man on the Street, of course) tells Ferguson he
wouldn't vote for a person who believed such things, since it's "a
little fruity, a little nutty."
Fox 13 had featured a series of segments
about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pegged to the fact that two candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman
). In one segment
, anchor Darrell Greene discusses with Ferguson the topic, "Will Americans put a Mormon in the White House?" Ferguson replies that the Mormon issue had a lot to do with Romney's early withdrawal from the 2008 nomination campaign. He believes that evangelical or mainline Protestant candidates could make an issue of Romney's religion again this time, but he predicted that if Romney is the eventual nominee, his stances on the issues in contrast to those of President Barack Obama could make Republican voters more likely to accept his Mormonism. Then came the "man on the street" segment, played for laughs.
Ben Smith of Politico also picked up
on the story, in a post titled "Making Fun of Mormons in Memphis":
I've been of the mind that anti-Mormon sentiment has been overstated, but this segment on the Memphis Fox affiliate shakes that view a bit.
UPDATE: This story is really starting to get some legs. At Commentary, a journal of the Jewish right, Alana Goodman writes
Poking fun at religion is one thing, but skewering peoples' religious
beliefs during a news analysis segment is pretty outrageous. Imagine if
a reporter had instead been mocking some of the stranger aspects of
Judaism, Christianity or Islam?
That said, I'm not sure whether this video hurts Romney or helps him.
On the one hand, getting attacked by a reporter about your religion is
pure gold for most Republican politicians, and this clip could certainly
help Romney win sympathy and support from the conservative base. On the
other hand, the video does portray Mormonism negatively, and it highlights some religious beliefs Romney might not want circulating.
I didn't expect Mormonism to become part of the election, but if
videos like this keep popping up, then it might become an issue Romney
will have to address.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Alana Goodman at Commentary -- and she's not the only one -- has this story backward, presumably because she hasn't seen Ferguson speaking at the GOP convention or guesting on "O'Reilly Factor." I'm not sure the conservative base might have sympathy for a candidate being bashed on religious grounds by an conservative evangelical talk-radio host, ie, a member of the ... conservative base.