Clarifying “LDS” Criticisms of Romney

A story popped up at WorldNetDaily on Friday reporting that the “Mormon Church-owned Deseret Morning News” published an editorial critical of Mitt Romney. It was followed by the Brody Files, under the headline “Romney Gets Slapped by Mormon Newspaper.” While these pieces use their language carefully, they leave the strong impression that Mitt Romney is being directly castigated by his own church– something akin to the recent remarks of the Pope threatening ex-communication for Catholic politicians (such as Rudy Giuliani) that support abortion rights. It would certainly make for a big story for the LDS church to speak out in condemnation of Mitt Romney, but no such thing has actually happened. Indeed, the Morning News editorial did not speak for the LDS Church, and was actually not very critical of Mitt Romney.

First, some background. Mitt Romney served for several years on the board of directors for the Marriott hotel chain, a company whose hotels (which are not owned by the company, but franchised to private owners) offer pornographic pay-per-view movies to guests. Anti-pornography groups have raised the issue in recent weeks, wondering what Mitt Romney’s position was on this ugly profit center while he served on the board. For a good summary of the issues, attacks and defenses on the question, see this post at the Brody Files.

Last week, the Deseret Morning News, a Salt Lake City newspaper whose holding company is owned by the LDS Church, published a brief editorial titled “The Nasty Taint of Porn,” which spoke out against pornography and lamented the position Romney now finds himself in. The editorial’s comments targeted at Romney himself state that his role on the Board of a company that made pornography available (among its myriad other services) “is not entirely insignificant.” It also states that Romney should have understood that this connection might “taint” him in the future.

The reader may judge for himself whether those comments constitute “criticizing” or “slapping” Romney. What is certain is that the editorial cannot be construed as a statement by the LDS Church itself. Although it is owned by the LDS Church’s business holdings group, the Deseret News operates as a mostly independent voice. According to Jay Evensen, the editor of the paper’s editorial page, while the paper generally reflects the same conservative values as the LDS Church, there is no vetting or other supervision by the Church over Deseret News editorial content. In an interview, Mr. Evensen stated that the editorial page has its own voice– sometimes authored by non-Mormons– and communicates little with Church officials. “If the Church wants to say something,” says Evensen, “the First Presidency will say it, not me.” In short, Deseret Morning News editorials should not be presumed to reflect the official position of the LDS Church.

Thus, the editorial printed about Romney’s Marriott problem should be taken for what it is- the opinion of a somewhat conservative-leaning newspaper about a problem that affects American culture. The paper’s organizational connection to the Church makes a nice link for a story, but really doesn’t mean anything where editorial opinions are concerned.

As to the LDS Church’s own position, the Church has been clear in condemning all pornography as a plague and a taint on society. This criticism has never been officially applied to the Marriotts themselves (some of whom serve in positions of authority in the church), or to Mitt Romney. The Church’s refusal to criticize these individual members should not be taken as a free pass for prominent members, however. More likely, it is due to the fact that the official Church never criticizes any specific person, and the Church’s likely understanding that service on a Board of Directors usually does not lend a sufficient club with which a person can unilaterally change a company’s franchisees’ low-level operations policies.