I think it’s fair to say that while Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy has forced the media to do more and better coverage of Mormonism, the religion is still treated as a cultural and theological oddity. Much of the coverage is still sensational — as I type this, The Daily Beast is hyping an interview with “a direct descendant of Brigham Young, Sue Emmett [who] left the church because of the very values she says would make Romney a frightening president.” I hate to break it to The Daily Beast, but Brigham Young had 55 wives and 57 children. A gathering of his third generation descendents would look like Calcutta on Free Malaria Shot Day. Finding one of them who would disavow Mitt Romney and their great-great grandfather’s legacy is a matter of simple probability, and it’s neither novel or illuminating.
Tabloids aside, I wish I could say that the coverage from respectable outlets was automatically better. But it was with dread that I learned that The New Yorker had published a sweeping essay about “Mormonism and its meanings.” While The New Yorker is largely an outlet for criticism and opinion, the magazine carries with it a totemic status among my fellow reporters — even those I know who largely disagree with its center-left politics — and often sets the tone for any future coverage by the rest of the media establishment once it’s weighed in on a given issue.
Making matters worse, the essay in question is written by Adam Gopnik. Gopnik is a very witty and perceptive writer; however, if anyone on the masthead perfectly embodies cocooned Manhattan liberalism, it’s Gopnik. I suppose the fact that Gopnik’s fellow Manhattan literary stereotypes feel comfortable inveighing against him as “tone-poet of post-9/11 Manhattan, drizzling pixie dust across a cityscape that no longer bears the hearty flavor of ‘smoked mozzarella,’ as he notoriously described the downtown death smell,” that should tell you something. Indeed, take a gander at this nugget from Gopnik’s essay on Mormons.