McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed was one of the reporters in the Romney press pool during his late campaign for president. He is also a Mormon. In a long piece posted on November 14, Coppins reveals the stark anti-Mormon bigotry that his fellow members of the media openly displayed as they followed team Romney around the country.
Coppins’ report offers several interesting bits of information and even makes Mitt out to be the John Kennedy of Mormonism in that, like Kennedy, Mitt’s candidacy brought his religion out from under the shadows of suspicion and into the mainstream.
But the piece begins revealing the stark and totally casual anti-Mormon bigotry of his fellow members of the Old Media establishment.
In his first several paragraphs Coppins reveals that the other reporters following Romney constantly sniggered about his “Mormon underwear” and often made jokes about his religion when in the privacy of the press plane or on their many bus trips.
The jokes from his fellows made Coppins uncomfortable. At one point he noted he “slid down in his seat” and pretended to look at his phone to avoid eye contact with the guffawing media bigots surrounding him.
The underwear question seemed to fascinate Coppins’ Old Media fellows. He reports that one Newsweek correspondent openly wondered if Romney would, “actually wear that Mormon underwear in the White House?”
Coppins also pointed out how odd it felt for him, a life-long Mormon intimately familiar with anti-Mormon sentiment, now being tasked with trying to ask questions about Romney’s faith during the campaign.
But for most of the campaign the Romney machine was monolithic on avoiding all talk about Romney’s religion. It was not an issue that the candidate wanted to talk about, likely, Coppins says, because of how viciously he was treated over his religion in several of his past campaigns. This time, Mitt decided, religion was off the table.
This struck Coppins as a bit unnecessary. Maybe even a bad move.
But as a journalist, I was now the one asking those uncomfortable questions. And as much as I wanted to believe Romney’s aides when they insisted religion should have “no part in this election,” I knew that couldn’t be true. My entire worldview had been colored by my faith; was I really supposed to believe the same wasn’t true of Romney?
Coppins also says that his media colleagues seemed unable to understand Romney’s faith even when he was openly observing its tenets.
Reporters in his traveling press corps often wondered why, even as the general election kicked into full gear, Romney insisted on dropping off the campaign trail on Sundays, opting to spend the day with family in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire or La Jolla, California. Some speculated that it was a symptom of his distaste for campaigning, but one aide told me his motives were mostly religious. Even when he was obligated to travel, he made efforts to find a Mormon Sacrament meeting nearby. He also abided by the other Sabbath-related bylaws, abstaining from dining out and and shopping on Sundays.
“He actually follows all those rules,” the aide told me. “It’s hard to explain to [press] that, no, he’s not going to eat out on Sunday, or anything else.”
Obviously, religious observance is so foreign to members of the media that they simply can’t understand why anyone would want to go to church on Sundays.
Another interesting tidbit of info that Coppins reveals is that the Romney campaign had a whole sheaf of opposition research on the history that Obama’s extended family had with polygamy, ready to be used if Obama or one of his surrogates launched into an attack on Mormon multiple marriages.
One RNC official told me they were prepared to release opposition research dealing with polygamy in Obama’s family tree — including passages from a little-noticed memoir by the president’s half-sister Auma — if the left tried to make hay of historical Mormon polygamy. But Chicago held its fire, and the issue never surfaced.
It was an assault that never materialized.
As Election Day neared, the campaign began to gradually include Romney’s faith into the campaign, a move that culminated in the Mormons that came to sing Mitt’s praise on stage during the Republican National Convention. And In fact, as the campaign warmed up and rolled onward, despite all the worries that Mitt’s Mormonism would be a major stumbling block for the media and voters alike, the Mormon issue never really came to pass.
On the right, the long-feared Evangelical backlash to Romney’s faith never materialized, and there were signs that the religious right was finally accepting conservative Mormons into the fold. In one particularly potent gesture, Billy Graham removed Mormonism from a list of “cults” on his website. That may seem like a low bar to clear, but on election day, Romney ended up winning a larger portion of white evangelicals than John McCain did in 2008.
Coppins ended his piece on the same note with which he began — the Old Media’s anti-Mormon bigotry — by relating that one of his colleagues asked him a question about his “Mormon underwear” as the campaign came to an end.
They are just fascinated by people’s underwear.
Coppins’ piece is both an interesting perspective and an informative piece, well worth the read.