For months, the MSM has been deeply deceptive about Mormonism – almost as deceptive as Mitt Romney himself. It’s not just that the MSM is not asking the right questions. Since Romney announced his candidacy, the media has aided and abetted him in deliberately sidestepping or miscasting the issues raised by his faith.

Writing in Slate, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens calls Romney’s handling of the rare media question about his beliefs a form of “three-card monte.” The tactic is working: “Most journalists have tacitly agreed that it’s off-limits to ask the former governor about the tenets of the Mormon cult.”

Time magazine’s James Poniewozik wonders whether “Romney is banking on the squeamishness of the media” on matters of faith: “The media are nervous to begin with about being painted as secularist elitists out of touch with ‘real America.’ This might make the press more likely to give credit to claims of ‘bigotry’ and frame the question as to whether Romney ‘overcame’ them – rather than, say, whether … voters’ reasons for rejecting him are valid in the first place.”

In contrast to Hitchens, who demands “straight answers” from Romney about why he is being secretive – if not downright dodgy (second item) – about his beliefs, The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund and other “journalists” actually advised Romney to flick away inconvenient inquires with glib answers. One reader vainly pleaded with Fund to do his job and not cover the Romney campaign by recycling PR backgrounders put out by the Mormon Church.

Romney himself is faulted by some for being fuzzy about his beliefs to woo a group of voters who are fervent about theirs.

Writing in The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan argues that, “He simply cannot elide the profound theological differences between the LDS church and mainstream Christianity. … [I]f you are appealing to religious people, especially fundamentalists, on the basis of faith, you cannot logically then ask them to ignore the content of the faith.”

It is precisely what Romney wants the media and voters to ignore – plus his wounded swan act – that drives Hitchens to apoplexy (to be fair, he’s perpetually in a state of near-apoplexy so it doesn’t take much for him to get the rest of the way there):

Romney makes himself absurd by saying that Mormons may not be asked about the tenets of their faith, lest this infringe the constitutional ban on a religious test for public office. Here is another failure of understanding on his part. He is not being told: Answer this question in the wrong way, and you become ineligible. He is being told: Your family is prominent in a notorious church that proselytizes its views in a famously aggressive manner. Are you only now deciding to make a secret of your beliefs? And if so, why?

Would he expect a Scientologist to be able to avoid questions about L. Ron Hubbard? … If an atheist was running against him, would Romney make nothing of the fact? …

Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics explains why Romney’s strategy of preaching to the evangelical choir was doomed from the start:

Five years ago, he had little to do with evangelical Christians. Now – through his positions, his language, and his emphases – he wants them to believe he is just like they are. … But surely he must expect those voters to be wary of the systematic changes that a 60 year old man has undergone … Is it unreasonable for those whom he is openly courting (on their terms) to inquire a bit about the origins of his policy preferences, to want some insight into his inner being, to see whether he will remain faithful to his promises once in office?

The Speech was billed as “an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on … how [his] own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected” – but ended up being “a caricature of Clintonian triangulation,” which left many Christians unsatisfied and unmoved:

† Republican Steve Carlson, a Pentecostal Christian and a consultant for the nonprofit voter-education organization Iowa Christian Alliance tells The Wall Street Journal (subscription required): “If my choice is between Mike Huckabee, who I know is saved, and Gov. Romney, who as a Mormon … [sic] I’m going to pick Mike Huckabee” while fellow Iowan and Huckabee supporter Bernie Hayes says, “I don’t want a president who believes something so off-base. The fact that Mr. Romney doesn’t want to discuss his faith “makes it worse.”

† Peter Bonnano, pastor of Grace Capital Church in Pembroke, NH, tells The Concord Monitor that The Speech was “pretty generic” and that “I don’t think he’s going to change anyone’s mind who knows the doctrine of Mormonism.” Bonnano adds: “He made a comment in his speech that he was unwilling to describe the distinctive doctrines. Why not? It’s deceptive when you’re unwilling to say, ‘I really do believe in that.’ Tom Cruise is willing to talk about Scientology.”

† Father Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest who comments on matters of faith for Fox News, is also troubled by Romney’s evasiveness: “[I]f today becomes the unraveling point of his candidacy, it will be because Mitt Romney did not have the courage or wisdom to say what he, as a Mormon, actually believes – all of it, without pretending his creed is no different than the Christian creed.”

Taken together, these folks are saying that The Speech amounted to nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig – while maintaining that the pig is, in fact, a horse. Honesty is always the best policy.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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