It’s vintage public broadcasting, plodding at times … and cloyingly fair-minded. And there’s the rub. The shows do not paint a flattering portrait of what filmmaker Helen Whitney calls “one of the most powerful, feared, and misunderstood religions in American history.”
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons call themselves, cooperated with “The American Experience” and “Frontline,” the show’s co-producers. Whitney in turn pays the church the compliment of taking its faith very seriously indeed. The positives are there for all to see: the Mormons’ triumph over persecution in mid-century America; the dramatic “exodus” from Illinois to Utah, the “country no one else wanted,” according to Wallace Stegner, a great admirer of the Mormon pioneers; the devotion to family and community.
But also on view are doctrines and practices that most Americans would view as strange.
It’s great that PBS is doing this. Here’s hoping it’s as “cloyingly fair-minded” as Beam says.
Beam also has an interesting take on the way the whole Romney/Mormon issue has been covered in the press so far (emphasis mine).
By now, almost every newspaper in America has published an analysis of Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations titled “Can a Mormon Be Elected President?” The stories follow a preordained path to arrive at the politically and socially desirable answer: Yes.
These set pieces serve mainly to make the not particularly religion-savvy political commentariat feel good about themselves. The writer appears unbiased, and the article inevitably validates the cherished American myth about our tolerance for diversity.
Can a Mormon be elected president in 2008? No.
Romney would do well to refuse “to be drawn into an extensive discussion of Mormon doctrine and practices,” because any such discussion inevitably raises more questions than it answers.
Well, that’s one view.