The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Twitterati Fight Mormon Mockery

Via Meadia has closely followed the sordid spectacle of professional pundits who have allowed partisan passions to override good sense by attacking Mitt Romney for his Mormon faith. For these pundits, insinuations of theocratic ambition and taunts about Mormons’ “strange” beliefs were considered beyond the pale when the subject was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Latter-day Saint; now that they serve the political purposes of outlets like the New York Times and Salon, they’re suddenly fair game.

Fortunately, the internet is bringing together voices to fight back against this bigotry. During the last primary debate, NY Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted “Let me just tell you this Mitt ‘Muddle Mouth’: I’m a single parent and my kids are *amazing*! Stick that in your magic underwear.” As Buzzfeed noted, “It’s difficult to imagine a Times writer making a similar joke about a Jewish politician.” The online backlash quickly forced an unconditional apology from Blow: “the comment I made about Mormonism during Wed.’s debate was inappropriate, and I regret it. I’m willing to admit that with no caveats.”

Salon‘s editor Joan Walsh similarly faced the wrath of the Twitterati when she tweeted on Tuesday that “Romney’s saving the soul of America—so he doesn’t have to baptize us after we’re dead.” Again, Bipartisan condemnation followed. As one tweet put it, “Oh @joanwalsh you scamp! That Mormon joke was so clever and funny!! Are you gonna joke about [Muslim] Rep. Keith Ellisons faith next?” (Buzzfeed has a nice rundown of the reactions.) Walsh, too, was forced to backpedal, first saying she was “torn” but then apologizing for the comment.

Score one for crowd-sourcing civility. Now if only the Times and Salon would apologize as readily for some of their recent editorial content as these two have done via Twitter, we might be able to put this unfortunate Mormon-bashing phenomenon to bed for good.

Published on March 1, 2012 11:30 am
  • Scohn

    I don’t think the power of the Twitter thought police is anything to celebrate. Free speech means defending people’s right to say what they think, even if that happens to be a crap and offensive joke.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Free speech entails being prepared to be told something you said was stupid as well as the right to say something stupid. Whether these particular people were thinking or emoting is debatable.

  • EvilBuzzard

    You should see some of the heart-warming and compassionate things that Matt Yglesias tweeted when he learned Andrew Breitbart died.

    Conventions around dead people are ridiculous. The world outlook is slightly improved with @AndrewBrietbart dead.

    — Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) March 1, 2012

    GO BIG BLUE!!!

  • http://peacocksandlilies.com/ annabellep

    Exactly, Mrs. Davis. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to critique.

  • SteveMG

    I haven’t read all the counter twitters to Blow and Walsh but did any of them say that they didn’t have the right to express their views?

    As a Supreme Court justice once wrote, there’s a difference between the right to do something and the right thing to do.

    You have the right to say racist or bigoted things; but it’s just not the right thing to do.

    Nor does it mean that others don’t have the right to condemn you. It’s their right as well. Only in this case it’s also the right thing to do.

  • vanderleun

    When Romney becomes the nominee then the Mormon bashing will really begin. Convenient that the current president has no religion to speak of, isn’t it?

  • Kris

    “Free speech means defending people’s right to say what they think”

    No it doesn’t!

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I think we have taken this appropriateness thing too far. I voted for Romney in the Florida primary (I vote in Palm Bach County where it counts) and I thought both of these were witty comments and a legitimate part of the rough and tumble of politics. America has definitely declined since the days when Democrats sang: “Hurrah for Maria, Hurrah for the kid. We voted for Grover and we’re damned lad we did.” Here in uncouth Australia our leader of the opposition, Tony Abbot, is an Uber Catholic, perhaps even an Ultramontain Catholic, and we all call him “The Mad Monk.” It all reminds me of my neighbor’s cute little car with mauve lettering across the back window reading: “Toughen Up Princess”.

  • Scohn

    I’m not disputing the notion that criticism is healthy. As the Great Lexicographer put it, “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

    However, what I’m concerned about is the increasing regularity of these “twitch hunts” where individuals are surrounded by the Twitter mob and pilloried into issuing an apology.