THE FAKING OF THE PRESIDENT: What happened next!

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2012

Part 4—Is Jason Horowitz “biased:”
It’s true! Republicans are constantly “crying bias,” just as Allen and VandeHei said in their famous Politico piece.

(To read their report, click here.)

Just as Allen and VandeHei said, this cry is a familiar part of Republican politics. “It fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism,” the Politico pundit pair wrote.

Having said that, is it possible that the GOP has a bit of a point with regard to some recent campaign coverage? In their now-famous Politico piece, Allen and VandeHei seemed to say yes.

This brings us to a thorny question: Is Jason Horowitz “biased?”

Jason Horowitz is a reporter for the Washington Post. On May 11, he wrote the sprawling, 5500-word front-page report which explored Mitt Romney’s conduct when he was in high school.

Horowitz reported that Romney engaged in a bullying incident in the spring of 65. As a result, his ginormous, sprawling report became a bit of a cause celebre.

The report is one of the recent reports which Allen and VandeHei limned in their Politico piece. So how about it? Is Jason Horowitz—and/or his editors—possibly guilty of “bias?”

Obviously, that is possible. Obviously, Horowitz or one of his editors could be in the grip of some bias. But despite this blindingly obvious fact, liberal leaders, punching their Hannity cards, rushed into print last week, loudly denouncing the ludicrous notion the Politico pair had advanced. After five minutes of thought and reflection, they called this suggestion “deeply stupid.” It was just baldly absurd.

Remember: In the deeply tribal world invented by demons like Limbaugh and Hannity, the other tribe can never be wronged. By definition, by all that is holy, all “bias” is aimed straight at ours!

That’s a profoundly unintelligent notion; only a fool could advance it. But within the pseudo-liberal world our corporate leaders are currently building, we’re all Sean Hannity now! Having observed that sad fact of life, let’s ask if the Politico pair could have been right, to some extent, about Horowitz and/or his editors.

Is Horowitz “biased” against Mitt Romney? We have no idea, and we make no such assertion. Last November, he wrote this 2400-word report, “Romney’s Mormon Evolution.” The piece appeared on the front page of Style.

It strikes us as sensible, intelligent, fair, perhaps even a bit "pro-Romney."

In April, Horowitz wrote a shorter front-page piece in Style, “Why can’t Mitt Romney loosen up?” As a general matter, the piece strikes us as inane but largely inoffensive. It sticks to familiar narratives:
HOROWITZ (6/8/12): Like many people who knew Romney in the past, Keele has a hard time recognizing the candidate on the trail.

"Mitt Romney is capable of relaxing," he said. "The stiffness that people see is simply Mitt trying too hard."
Those concepts came straight out of a can. Inside our “press corps,” reporters are routinely asked to puzzle out candidates judged to be stiff. Romney is one such stiff puppy.

That said, it’s possible that Horowitz and/or his editors are “biased” in some way against Romney. Surely, no one can think that Romney is the type of guy who makes reporters go weak in the knees. He’s a serious throwback in various ways. In endless ways, he’s a truly horrible candidate, perhaps the worst of all time.

Rather plainly, Romney isn’t a major press favorite. Within the ranks of the mainstream “press corps,” there are surely some reporters who simply just don’t care for Mitt Romney.

Is Horowitz captured by this disease? As we look at the sprawling report which is involved in the current flap, we would ask, before all else, about the way he began, especially that highlighted sentence:
HOROWITZ (5/11/12): Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn't having it.
Was John Lauber “perpetually teased” at this school? Horowitz spoke to many Cranbrook students; many spoke to him on the record. But in all of his 5500 words, none of them was quoted saying anything dimly like that.

That’s a relatively minor point. A stronger question turns on the statement about Lauber’s “presumed homosexuality.” Given our (improving) cultural norms, that is a highly significant claim. It appeared in Horowitz’s opening paragraph; it led to widespread claims that Romney engaged in anti-gay bullying. But in all those 5500 words, no one is quoted saying that Lauber was “presumed,” or believed, to be gay.

Horowitz interviewed many students. Remarkably, there is no sign that anyone told him that Lauber was believed to be gay.

Why was that highly significant claim advanced in the absence of published evidence? We have no idea, but it represents a major bit of journalistic malpractice. Unsurprisingly, we have seen no one mention this glaring problem with Horowitz’s report.

We just aren’t a very smart bunch. Our culture doesn’t work that way.

It may be that some former students did tell Horowitz that Lauber was believed to be gay. But if the failure to include such statements is simply a journalistic error, it is a very large, glaring error, though Howard Kurzt failed to notice.

Could it represent something more? We have no idea; there is no way to know. For all we know, some editor inserted that line in that opening paragraph. It may be that Horowitz didn’t author that claim at all!

For our money, the high school story was over-played by the Washington Post. As a general matter, we think reporting on presidential candidates should focus on their conduct as adults. In our view, the tendency to muck around in their behavior as teens is one of the roughly three million ways the modern “press corps” tries to avoid discussing the most relevant matters.

That said, the sprawling treatment given this story would not represent a decision by Horowitz. If the story’s length and placement represents some sort of “bias,” that bias would presumably belong to his editors.

Is it possible that Allen and VandeHei correctly sniffed out some sort of “bias” as they looked at the prominence given this story? We don’t know. But we’ll have to say that we were struck by Horowitz’s next report about Romney. It appeared on the front page of the Outlook section on Sunday, June 3. Headline: “When is Mormonism fair game?”

“Fair game?” We find that headline a trifle strange; presumably, Horowitz didn’t write it. But we thought several aspects of his piece reflected peculiar judgment:

Chumping the campaign: Horowitz started by chumping the Romney campaign in a way reporters rarely do. He published e-mails from Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul. In these e-mails, Saul had challenged some of the ways Solomon reported on Mormonism in his November report.

For ourselves, we don’t understand Saul's complaint—we see no problem with Horowitz’s November report—but then, we only get to see her e-mails as Horowitz chose to disclose them. We’ll only say this about that: It’s very rare for a major reporter to chump a campaign spokesperson this way.

In the fall of 2007, the Post’s Ann Kornblut did do something similar to a spokesperson for Candidate Hillary Clinton. But at that time, the “press corps” was working very hard to take this bad candidate down.

Chumping the campaign on a highly sensitive matter: Horowitz didn’t chump the Romney campaign on just any old topic; as the focus of his piece, he chumped the campaign on a very sensitive matter. You can read his piece for yourself to see what it is. We’d say he used bad judgment here, unless he was actually trying to suggest that the Romney campaign tends to be a bit insensitive with respect to another religion, one whose members have been persecuted all over the world.

Pretending that Romney should cop: Having built a peculiar framework around his piece, Horowitz proceeded to play a familiar old card. He pretended the candidate is refusing to discuss a topic he should be discussing.

In fairness, journalists play this silly old card all the time. Generally, though, this card is played against candidates whom the “press corps” disfavors.

According to Horowitz, what should Romney be talking about? According to Horowitz, he should be talking about his religion! Very few candidates ever do that, but Horowitz went to work pretending that Romney is acting strangely as he continues to clam.

What does he think about Joseph Smith? What did he think, three decades ago, about his church’s (now-abandoned) ban on blacks in the priesthood? In this passage, Horowitz marvels at Romney’s refusal to talk:
HOROWITZ (6/3/12): In February, after losing three states in one day to Rick Santorum, Romney highlighted his pastoral experience to supporters in Atlanta. "In my church," he said, "we don't have a professional ministry, and so people are asked to serve as the minister or the pastor of their congregation from time to time, and I had that privilege for over 10 years."

But Romney clearly prefers to talk about his religion on his own terms.

At an event in Wisconsin in April, a man began asking the candidate about some of the more controversial aspects of Mormonism, including its past ban on blacks in the priesthood.

"I'm sorry, we're just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view, but if you have a question, I'll be happy to answer your question," Romney said.

"I guess my question is, do you believe it's a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?" the man asked.

"No," Romney snapped, turning to the other side of the room. "Next question."

Later at the event, he elaborated: "This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I'll talk about the practices of my faith.''

Romney has declined to clarify whether he believed that the ban—which was still in effect as he entered the local church hierarchy in Boston—was divine doctrine or flawed teaching. He has refused to comment on the policy beyond expressing relief that it was lifted. A friend of his at Brigham Young University has said that Romney considered it disrespectful to question the word of the church hierarchy and that he bristled against colleges that protested the ban by boycotting athletic competitions with BYU.

But Romney has also demonstrated an aversion to talking about subjects most Mormons proudly discuss, including the religion's founding story.
Did Romney really “snap” at that man? Few words are more useful when journalists want to convey an impression. That said, let’s take ourselves to the place where rubber meets road:

Romney “prefers to talk about his religion on his own terms?” Can you think of any candidate, of any faith, of whom that statement wouldn’t be accurate? Very few candidates flounce about, taking random questions from “men in Wisconsin” about their religion’s various doctrines and practices.

Romney “has declined to clarify whether he believed that the ban...was divine doctrine or flawed teaching?” In Campaign 04, how often did Candidate Kerry “agree to clarify” whether he believed that the ban on women in his church’s priesthood represents the infallible judgment sometimes ascribed to the Pope? In a similar vein, how often did Candidate Kerry discuss his views about the way his religion was founded? Candidates don’t discuss such things, for reasons which are blindingly obvious. They don’t tell you if they think the wine really turns into blood; Candidate Obama didn’t “agree to clarify” whether he thinks Jesus Christ was truly the son of God.

Does Obama think Mary was a virgin? Following Candidate Kerry’s precedent, he “declined to clarify” his views on that question too!

How many candidates go about discussing their religion's "founding story?" Let's form a quick estimate: None!

Candidates don’t discuss such things! In the case of Candidate Kerry, they tell you how they voted on funding for the war in Iraq. In response, members of Horowitz’s “press corps” gambol and play for several months, pretending the candidate has engaged in comical self-contradiction.

That’s the way our “discourse” works. Narrow aspects of religious doctrine are quite rarely discussed.

Horowitz’s report from last November strikes us as completely fair. We think his Outlook piece on Mormonism veered in a less worthy direction.

We assume that Horowitz is a good, decent person who tries to present good, decent reporting. We think he achieved that goal in November—in recent weeks, perhaps not so much.

That said, is it possible that Horowitz (or his editor) has a bit of a bug up his ass about Romney? Is it possible that he’s gripped by a bit of “bias” without even being aware? Of course it’s possible, though we certainly wouldn’t assert that it’s true. But having said that, we will say this: Liberals and progressives should be especially vigilant about such questions.

We liberals say that the corporate press corps lies in the grip of Big Money and Power. If we really believe that, we ought to be working to build a press culture which operates on solid restrictions and rules.

We ought to be working to restrict the press corps’ ability to flounce all about the countryside, writing about various wayward topics (at great length) while assuring us that the readers will sort the whole mess out.

If we give our corporate press corps that license, won’t they tend to exercise their license against more progressive candidates? In our view, that is what has happened over the course of the past several decades. If Romney is encountering a bit of “bias”—and surely, somewhere he is—that would represent a divergence from the norm of the past twenty years.

If we believe that the press is in thrall to Big Interests, we should work to restrict its scope. We should try to restrict its ability to blather about all sorts of distractions. (Why would Candidate Gore wear earth tones? Wazzup with those three-button suits?) We should try to restrict its ability to assert all manner of nonsense. (Why did John Kerry go wind-surfing? Why did he put the wrong cheese on his cheese steak? Why didn’t Michael Dukakis bunch Bernie Shaw right in the nose?)

But alas! We are all Sean Hannity now, at least on the level of “liberal leadership.” Joan Walsh is empty, daft, perhaps a tiny smidgeon corrupt—and she runs with a whole gang of friends! She affirmed the New York Times piece on dressage, thereby pleasing our empty heads and stuffing more dough in her pants.

Alas! Gaze on the brave new pseudo-lib world! Our “leaders” are endlessly dumb and corrupt. We are unable to see this.


  1. Shorter folks who are sure to arrive:

    There doesn't need to be evidence that Romney and others "presumed" Lauber gay, or that they "perpetually" harassed him because they so presumed.

    It requires no evidence, because it is self-evident.

    Self-evident, to us, because we want to believe it.

  2. "We liberals say that the corporate press corps lies in the grip of Big Money and Power. If we really believe that, we ought to be working to build a press culture which operates on solid restrictions and rules.

    We ought to be working to restrict the press corps’ ability to flounce all about the countryside, writing about various wayward topics (at great length) while assuring us that the readers will sort the whole mess out."

    Well, well, well.

    Now we know.

    Somerby reads his comments.

    He's talking to you.

    You know which Anonymous Idiot you are.

  3. Here we get a long, qualified piece about some injustices that MAY have appeared in a piece on Mitt Romney. Then we switch to another piece about Mitt Romney, which we are told but not shown was really terrible, and is used as another stick to whip Joan Walsh with. As a poster illustrated very well yesterday, TDH doesn't always shoot straight when it comes to Walsh.
    Can we talk? The idea that religion is off limits is wrong. Wrong for Romney, wrong for Obama. Questions of faith SHOULD be raised in an respectful and fair minded context, and extra care should be applied to avoid cheap shots. But this is, without a doubt, a central part of the make up of these men's lives. When George W Bush told us the philosopher who influenced him the most was Jesus Christ, I think we are entitled to a little how and why. How would Jesus, we are still entitled to ask, have viewed Shock and Awe? This is the opposite of the kind of frivolous exchange the Daily Howler would have us disparage.
    I guess it would be embarrassing(and possibly damaging) for Obama to state that (and I'm assuming here in perhaps a big way) that he views the stories of The Bible as metaphors on which he tries to build a just and good life. But that is no doubt how many people view the Bible and it might win him points for honesty. Mormonism has some very strange aspects, or strange to the outsider. Is it really positive that we simply ignore (and then, perhaps, silently distrust) Romney's faith?

  4. Ah, something I disagree with. Bob is most certainly wrong when he states that "[v]ery few candidates ever do that [talk about religion.]" Our last president talked about his religious beliefs a lot, even though when you looked at them, they got a bit murky. Our current president has talked about his conservative religious beliefs ad nauseum, and would probably talk about them more if not for that pesky Rev. Wright. All of the serious candidates for the Republican nomination (with the exception of Romney) have talked about their religious beliefs and convictions, because it is a selling point to their largest constituency, the Christian Right.

    Now, if Bob wants to say that many Democratic candidates for president have been reluctant to talk about their religious beliefs, then that would be fair. Certainly, Romney would like to avoid the subject since he is a Mormon, and that carries a lot of unfair baggage for him. But to say that most recent candidates don't want to talk about religious matters is untrue.

  5. This is funny as hell. Two of the first four posts here are pre-emptive sallies by the Bobettes -- attacking their own caricatures of comments which haven't yet appeared. So for much for tribalism....

    But since Bob finally addressed the ownership question, and has offered a rejoinder of sorts, let's look at how the matter is studied by people who actually do study it -- and who have far less interest than Bob, in recreationally venting spleen against one media personality or another.

    The classic work here is Chomsky/Herman's "Manufacturing Consent". Chomsky, you'll notice, while constantly pointing to the venality and malfeasance of the American press, never specifically takes on campaign coverage, because there's no need to: his propaganda model already predicts that any candidate who challenges collective corporate values will be either ignored or ridiculed (score one for Noam!). Second, the particular sins of American campaign coverage (share-a-beerism, debate sighism, comfortable-in-skinism, inhaleism, earth toneism, etc.) won't be of great interest to the student of American press propaganda, the view being that the campaigns themselves are already vacuous, part of the larger deception engaged in by both the press and the candidates. In this model, both candidates avoid, by common consent, discussion of the real issues, and anyone who violates this consent agreement is either ignored or ridiculed by his opponent, the corporate press and opinion culture generally.

    So, in this light, the debate is over before American campaigns even begin, and Bob's personality-focused examination would seem peculiar and rather beside the point. If NYT was really willing to take on the Bain Capital story, it would have taken on hundred of other stories which put American capitalism in a predatory light. But of course NYT is part of that world as a corporate entity and is staffed by people from that world (Bill Keller is the son of which CEO?).

    Of course, NYT mentions Bain Capital, or Enron or JPMorgan Chase, when it has to. It's not quite Pravda. But that's about it.

    So did we clear all that all up?

    1. Good post, but as a fellow Chomsky reader what I found fascinating when I discovered the Daily Howler is precisely the fact that Bob seemed to be rediscovering it all pretty much on his own, and by looking at things that Chomsky never wrote about. Reading Chomsky I knew about the bias and dishonesty in the press when writing about human rights issues, but reading Bob made me realize the bias even shows up against mainstream candidates like Gore. It's not that Gore was any sort of progressive hero, but the rightwing bias in the supposedly leftwing media had become so great by 2000 that even a center-left (and more center than left) candidate like Gore was slimed. Krugman was the only one in the press pointing out that Bush's economics made no sense. In fact, that was the period when Krugman himself became somewhat radicalized-he'd been an ivory tower centrist type before he started paying attention to the 2000 Presidential campaign.

      I think it's immensely helpful for people who are new to the idea of press criticism to have someone like Bob down in the weeds following it day by day--the grand theoretical overviews need to be fleshed out to be really convincing and while Chomsky does a good job covering the atrocity angle, that still leaves plenty of other topics for others to demonstrate that the propaganda model is true.

    2. Good post anon 12:59. I think there is more to it though. Basically, we have a choice btween the lesser and the greater evil. The only rational choice is to choose the lesser evil.

    3. @Anonymous 10:40

      What you describe isn't necessarily ideological bias. As a group, political reporters are probably the least professional and worst informed of their profession -- the modern-day equivalent of gossip columnists. They ran moronic stories on Gore because 1) they apparently hated the guy in a personal sense, and 2) they needed something to write about, because neither candidate in these contests engages in real issues and the reporters don't, in any case, "do policy".

      Similarly, it isn't necessarily right-wing bias which prevents reporters from pointing out (to take a current example) that the Ryan budget is a sham, and that the job is left to Krugman. Their lack of basic competence, and their embrace of conventional wisdom, is the likelier cause.

      In other words, you don't need the full force of Chomsky's model, to explain this kind of press coverage.

      Whether Bob's own media criticism, with its manias, prejudices and admissions of policy ignorance, is an independent of discovery of the underlying dynamics codified by Chomsky and Herman, is different question.

      Again, Chomsky does not much concern himself with the *personal* conduct of reporters or the vagaries of campaign coverage, because it's Chomsky's larger point that major media simply won't cover real issues. In the absence of real issues, and in the drive for ratings, a lot of the resulting coverage will simply be idiotic. The NYT would seem be non-partisan in this respect. It's coverage of Gore and Clinton was, to date, far worse than it's been on Romney.

    4. 10:40 anonymous replying to 9:42 anonymous

      I think that what Bob writes about is a combination of press incompetence and outright bias. But they're not unrelated. If you have a press corps which really functions as a propaganda arm for powerful interests, you'd expect them to hire a large number of bubbleheads who in turn will churn out both mindless idiotic drivel with no ideological content, along with stories that are ideologically slanted because all the Serious People think along the same lines. And if they do slant a story in a progressive direction, chances are it will be done in a mindless stupid way that doesn't advance anyone's understanding. (Which describes much of MSNBC).

      Repeating myself, what I've seen at the Daily Howler is basically a fleshing out of Chomsky's claim that the press isn't really there to inform us, but to distract us or propagandize us. And that's what Bob's work shows. You've got some stories that are just idiotic--that's the distraction. And you've got some which are blatantly propagandistic. As for the MSNBC clown shows that upset Bob so much (leaving aside Chris Hayes, whose show is anomalously good), they are a way of making a bit of money off the liberals who want their own version of Fox News. The last thing MSNBC wants is thoughtful conversation and/or journalism on a nightly basis that probes deeply into issues.

      And again, Bob's work is valuable because he gets into the details. Chomsky refuses to do this (except when writing about human rights issues) and I think I understand why, but I also think someone needs to do it. If you want to convince people that the press functions the way Chomsky claims, you need to give evidence that the press really does a horrible job covering the news--not just American-sponsored atrocities, but even the day-to-day political stuff. Which is where Bob comes in.

    5. I forgot to add--

      I suspect that Chomsky himself wouldn't find Bob's work that interesting, but probably because he'd consider it a trivial consequence of his theory of the press. But just because Chomsky would take this for granted doesn't mean that everyone else would. I personally know people who don't read Chomsky and do read the NYT and watch MSNBC or other branches of the MSM and they don't realize just how bad a job the press does. I've heard people repeat the stories about Gore as though they were true. Hell, I believed some of them myself. The point is that people can say in the abstract that they suspect the press is biased or incompetent and still have no idea just how bad it really is, or how many things they think they know which really were journalistic fabrications.

  6. "Finally addressed the ownership question"???

    You need to hit the archives, my friend.

  7. Suppose, though, that the Mormon Church's ban on blacks in the priesthood was still in effect. Would it not then very much be a relevant issue for a mormon presidential candidate? If Mitt Romney or any other mormon had been running for president in, say, 1976 (2 years before the priesthoof ban was lifted) would it have been legitimate for the press to make an issue of it? If so, then how many years post-1978 must elapse before it becomes inappropriate to bring up?

    Since I am sympathetic to Bob's argument, these are not easy questions.

    1. How would that shed any light on Romney, any more than the banning of women from the priesthood of the Catholic Church does on Kerry? Individuals, candidates or not, are not held responsible for the doctrines of their churches because these are not fixable by an individual, and because people acquire their faiths by being born into them (mostly) and not as a matter of reason, responsibility and choice (despite the reaffirmation of faith that occurs in most churches when children are considered able to think rationally).

      All religions are inherently irrational and hold ridiculous doctrines, practices and have embarrassing pasts. This is largely only obvious to those who are non-religious, but there is a pact among most people to avoid confronting other faiths, lest they be similarly confronted. Extending this from civil discourse to politics is a short step. That's why it is considered biased or wrong to raise such issues in the context of a campaign -- it violates that social norm.

      Most people consider other people's religious views to be wrong-headed at least to yucky or scandalous or evil at worst. The only correct faith is one's own. Trying to portray a candidate's religion as wrong is too easy to accomplish when that person's beliefs are minority and thus campaigns try to bring them to the forefront without appearing to do so deliberately. That is where the press plays a role -- it gives cover to campaigns to discuss stuff they shouldn't be talking about but gain great advantage from pointing out.

      Both Romney and Obama espouse minority religious views. If they open that can of worms both campaigns will be hurt. So, Obama talks about his faith but not the content of his religion and Romney tries to do the same. The press helped Obama avoid discussing liberation theology. They are not helping Romney avoid discussing Mormon oddities as much, in my opinion and that is where bias comes into the picture.

    2. Really? A presidential candidate's religion should be off limits even if it openly practices racial discrimination?

    3. 5:08, remember when JFK had to convince voters he wouldn't be taking orders from the Vatican? That question has be legitimized all over again because of the actions of some Catholic bishops, led by St. Louis' Archbishop Burke, toward Kerry in the 2004 campaign. In that year, Kerry was hurt badly among a rather large segment of his fellow Catholics because he WOULDN'T take orders from the hierarchy, and that hurt him bad in Ohio.

      You also remember the Rev. Wright issue during the 2008 campaign and how deftly Obama handled it himself, without any help from the press?

      Granted, there should be no religous test for president, but at the same time to take the counter-argument to an absurd extreme to make a point, if a candidate belonged to a sect that sacrificed cocker spaniel puppies to the Moon God ever Friday night, I think voters might be interested to know that.

  8. Bob is right.

    Unless of course you think asking "Do you think Mary was a virgin" would have shed any meaningful light on how previous candidates would perform as elected presidents (such as Obama, Clinton, Kennedy, FDR).

    Numerous acts by Romney as an elected official were contrary to his religious beliefs. We already know he separates the two, which is the only important question.

  9. Oh come on, what a waste of time this discussion is.

    You have to ask, what does it MEAN that Romney is a Mormon?

    It means that he embraces REACTIONARY social and political practices, that's what!

    It also means that his neolithic Christian constituency faces a serious CONTRADICTION when it thinks of voting for him.

    It means, then, that Romney's religion is a WEAKNESS and that progressives should EMPHASIZE Romney's strange religious practices and beliefs.

    Bob is behaving increasingly like the persecuted heros in dime novels, who succumb to their fates with noble and outspoken defiance, rather than using a little wit and deception (oh, Achilles, where are you when we need you) to come out on top once in a while.

    1. You have to ask, what does it MEAN that Romney is a Mormon?

      It means that he embraces REACTIONARY social and political practices, that's what!

      Uhm, not all Mormons are conservatives, some are liberals (both politically and theologically) who do not like their religion's hierarchy, much like many Catholics. Maybe you should get out more? Also, it would be really, really unfortunate if progressives chose to attach Romney's Mormonism. That would be a dangerous road to travel down and a further devolution of our already crappy political discourse.

    2. Not to mention decidedly "unliberal".

    3. Quasi, you'd have a good point if Romney could be pinned down as a strong Mormon.

      However, judging by his political behavior in this and previous campaigns as well as his business behavior, it is hard to say what principles Romney has ever stood firmly on, religious or otherwise, that he wouldn't abandon in a nanosecond for personal gain.

      In short, Mitt Romney is committed only to Mitt Romney.

  10. I think you mean Odysseus, not Achilles.

    That aside, the rest of your post was stupid and bigoted. As hardindr pointed out, not all Mormons are conservative. Bob hardly needs to write another word--you only have to look at some of his commenters to see that the liberal world is depressingly close to the Fox News universe when it comes to tribal idiocy.

  11. I agree with Quasi3000 that Romney's religion is a political weakness. However, I don't agree that his opponents should emphasize his strange religious practices and beliefs. IMHO Romney's religion is analagous to Obama's race.

    Obama's race is a political weakness. Ruthless opponents could emphasize the fact that black crime rates are far higher than average. That 17 year-old African American students have skills in English, mathematics and science similar to those of 13-year-old white students.

    But, I don't think that's the way to campaign. I think that approach would be ugly and racist. I feel the same way about emphasizing Romney's unusual religion. Both men should be judged as individuals, not as members of particular groups.

    1. Ummm, David? I think in America you pretty much get to choose your religion, certainly by the time they reach adulthood.

      Did you choose your race?

    2. It's fascinating to learn, David, that you think Obama's race is a potential liability -- assuming as you do that crime or education stats which put African-Americans in a negative light, would be an effective campaign strategy.

      In other words, you assume that the public, instead of concluding from such stats that there are serious inequalities in society, would be apt to associate Obama with crime and lower standards of education achievement.

      Here, evidently disagree with Bob Somerby: you, a self-described conservative, believe that there are large number of racist voters, to whom such a campaign would appeal. I'm so glad we can agree on that one.

      You also appear to believe, or believe others believe, that Obama is responsible for the actions of others, based solely on race affinity or racial theories.

      Will assume the latter, for the sake of the argument. Again, I'm happy to see we're in the same camp on this one.

      The alternative, of course, it that you yourself believe these things. But one assumes that couldn't be possible.

  12. In case anyone has forgotten, American foreign policy is driven in large part by the religious right, and the last Republican president claimed to be doing God's work and to have the ear of God.

    Imagine if things were reversed: that instead of excluding atheists from public office, no candidate professing absurd religious beliefs could win a national election.

    So absolutely: ask Obama if he thinks Mary was a virgin and if Mitt believes in the literal existence of the Angel Moroni.

    In a decent world, an affirmative in either case would be disqualifying. But of course we don't live in a decent world -- unlike other industrial democracies, the American public is the victim of astonishing levels of superstition. Anybody who thinks this is good for national governance would probably be better off in a theocracy like Iran.

  13. "Headline: 'When is Mormonism fair game?'

    'Fair game?' We find that headline a trifle strange; presumably, Horowitz didn’t write it. But we thought several aspects of his piece reflected peculiar judgment"

    I think the headline in itself is fine, and, moreover, proffers a fascinating question. Just when IS a candidate's religion fair game for public discussion, if ever? I think Bob largely leaves the complications of this issue unexplored in this post, but it is by no means an easy question to answer.

    In this post, Bob never really states, but he seems to imply, that a candidate's religion should generally be off limits, and in particular, that Mitt Romney's mormonism should be off limits. For instance, Bob criticizes a reporter for asking, paraphrased: "What did he think, three decades ago, about his church’s(now-abandoned) ban on blacks in the priesthood?"

    But is that really an irrelevant or prejudicial question? Romney belongs to a religion that, whatever else may be said about it, implemented a highly racist policy of exclusion against those of african lineage for approximately 150 years, and maintained that racist policy almost to the 1980s. Though not in place now, the church has never stated that the policy was a mistake, let alone issued an apology. Mitt Romney fully participated as an adult in good standing in the church for about thirteen years while this highly racist policy was in effect, and there is no record of any disagreement he had whatsoever.

    Given the above,is it really so horribly inappropriate that he should have to answer to the public for his apparent acquiescence and participation in such racism?