Fox 13, Ben Ferguson take heat for segment on Romney, Mormons

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.


16 Comments

Boy, "King Combover" Ferguson is really grasping. Who graduated this clown from college radio?

Fox13 should be ashamed for kinda, sorta deploying Ben Ferguson as a reporter/journalist. As anyone who monitors the media in Memphis should know, Ben is much more of a Rush Limbaugh wannabe than a real journalist.

Ben should stick to Talk, in his case Monologue, Radio. Has he ever had a paying gig??! Working for a small percentage of ad sales to family and friends doesn't count.

/

The best part of the story was the spelling "Morman" on the graphic titles. Idiots.

Not only was Ben Ferguson classless in that piece, he was factually wrong. We Mormons do NOT believe either that each will have their own planet nor that the Garden of Eden was in today's Missouri.

I hope he has better luck with the burger-flipping chart at his next job.

If Salt Lake City's Fox Affiliate aired a similar segment mocking Utah's minority Catholics, Baptists or any other religion, local Mormons would demand that Fox terminate the employment of those responsible. They'd be successful in their demands.

I don't mind legitimate criticism, even of a religious nature. Our first amendment rights are one of the freedoms that sets America apart. But Ferguson has not even attempted to get the story right. These misrepresentations and outright lies are more appropriate for a Comedy Central segment than for a Fox news program. Maybe that's where Fox 13 wants to go...

This is Re: Ben Ferguson's "reporting" on Mormonism in recent MOS segments:

Ben, I want to make sure I've got this right. In asking your interviewees about the Garden of Eden, the bit you think is laughable isn't the 6,000 and-some-odd-year-old botanical preserve inhabited by a man made of dust and woman made from his rib -- apparently the ancestors of all humanity -- but the fact that the founder of Mitt Romney's religious movement conjectured (two hundred years ago) that the garden in question was located in antediluvian North America? Not your particular brand of crazy, huh?

I think you'd do better to avoid the straw-man characterizations of other peoples' faiths (or better yet, draw a line between reporting and Jay Leno-style segments). A survey of world religions offers a miscellany of not only incredible, but risible, figures, events and statements. But these often have little to do with how a given faith is lived on a day-to-day basis. Would you willingly tie your (self-touted) evangelical Christianity to all statements made by leaders of the movement in the early 19th-century -- or, say, the 1850s -- or is there a sense in which that is immaterial to your life as a Christian, living and working in a series of intersecting communities? How about reading others with similar charity, especially when operating in your self-selected role as a public person?

Sincerely,

Will B.
A Concerned (Jewish) American watching from the UK.

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