NBC's Gregory, Lauer didn't challenge Romney's claims on religious test
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On NBC's Today, David Gregory stated that, in his speech, Mitt Romney "urged voters to reject a religious test for his candidacy," then aired clips of Romney saying, "I will serve no one religion," and "[a] person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." Similarly, Matt Lauer did not challenge Romney's claim that he "do[es]n't believe that the people in this country are going to choose a person based upon their faith or what church they go to." Neither Gregory nor Lauer noted that Romney has asserted, on several occasions, that Americans "want a person of faith to lead them."
During the December 12 broadcast of NBC's Today, introducing his report on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's faith, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory stated, "[Former] Governor Romney [MA], as you know, urged voters to reject a religious test for his candidacy." In his subsequent report, Gregory aired clips of Romney saying, "I will serve no one religion," and "[a] person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." Later, during an interview with Today co-host Matt Lauer, Romney asserted: "I don't believe that the people in this country are going to choose a person based upon their faith or what church they go to." However, neither Gregory nor Lauer noted that Romney has asserted, on several occasions, that Americans "want a person of faith to lead them," as Media Matters for America has documented.
Additionally, in his December 6 "Faith in America" speech, Romney attacked unnamed people who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God," claiming: "It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Romney further claimed that "[f]reedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," and "[f]reedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Later, Romney said, "[W]e can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day." After asserting that "[a]ny believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," Romney stated, "We do not insist on a single strain of religion; rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."
As Media Matters noted, after Romney gave his speech, Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn said on MSNBC Live: "I'm really stunned because I think it was an obliteration of the idea of the separation of church and state. He eliminated anybody who was a doubter, an atheist, an agnostic, a seeker. It's like, if you believe in God or Christ, you're on my side. If not, you're not."
As Media Matters has also noted, several news outlets have uncritically reported Romney's comments on faith in politics. For instance, on the December 10 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric asked Romney "why he didn't spend more time explaining the tenets of his Mormon faith in his speech." Romney replied: "I can't imagine doing that in a speech as you're running for president. ... [T]hat would really open the door to the kind of religious test where people would listen and say, 'OK, do I believe that?' " He further stated that "[n]o religious test should ever be required for qualification for office in these United States."
Similarly, The Washington Post reported on December 10 that Romney "repeatedly asserts his firm belief in the separation of church and state." In a December 6 article, the Associated Press reported Romney's complaint that a "religious test" to become president was "prohibited in the Constitution." Further, on the December 9 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, panelists praised Romney's December 6 speech, with syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker claiming, "New Englanders tend to respond to religion more in terms of liberty and tolerance than in terms of emotional responses."
From the December 12 broadcast of NBC's Today:
GREGORY: Matt, good morning. Governor Romney, as you know, urged voters to reject a religious test for his candidacy, but questions surrounding his Mormon faith have not gone away.
[begin video clip]
ROMNEY: I will serve no one religion.
GREGORY: Romney's speech was designed to quiet concerns about his Mormon faith once and for all, and stop the rise of former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, now the front-runner in Iowa.
ROMNEY: A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.
HUCKABEE: Faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me.
GREGORY: Huckabee has sold himself as a Christian leader in Iowa, where many evangelical voters don't consider Mormons to be true followers of Christ. And now there is this from an upcoming interview in The New York Times Magazine: quote, " 'Don't Mormons,' Huckabee asked in an innocent voice, 'believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?' " Mormon scholars insist that is a misstatement of the church's belief. Romney has stood by his church.
[end video clip]
LAUER: And here we go again, Governor, this subject that we started talking about months and months ago on the campaign trail is back again. Let's talk about this interview that Governor Huckabee gave to The New York Times Magazine. It'll be published this weekend. Asked if he thought the Mormon faith was a cult or religion, he said, "I think it's a religion," he said. "I really don't know much about it." And then he asked what the reporter termed "an innocent question." Quoting from the article: " 'Don't Mormons,' he asked in an innocent voice, 'believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?' " So, two questions, Governor: First, would you like to comment on the question? And, second, do you think it was an innocent question?
ROMNEY: Well, I'll tell you, of course the church has already come out and clarified that and set the record straight on that. And that's been something that's been leveled at our church over many, many years, and of course that's been set straight now. But, you know, I think it's totally appropriate in a political process for people to contrast their own record with the opponent, to talk about their differences on issues, but I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's just not the American way. And I think people will reject that. I think, fundamentally, Americans don't --
LAUER: So, would you say there was nothing innocent about the question? That it was designed to send -- almost speaking in code, that Mitt Romney -- saying to evangelicals, "Mitt Romney is not a true Christian"?
ROMNEY: You know, I have the highest respect for Mike Huckabee and I'm certainly not going to go after him on his campaign. I can tell you, I think he's a good man; he's trying to do the best he can. And I don't believe that the people in this country are going to choose a person based upon their faith or what church they go to. I think they want to see a person who has beliefs and convictions and the kind of character and experience that can lead the nation in a very difficult time.
LAUER: Although you realize, of course, that it's -- it is an issue because you felt the need to go out and make this speech on your faith last Thursday, and I'm just curious about it. Here you were directly discussing your faith, and yet, you only used the word Mormon one time in that entire speech. Why?
ROMNEY: Well, actually, we prefer the name the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon used to be a nickname, and I don't use it a lot, but now and then I do, because people know what faith I'm referring to. I talked about my faith a number of times. And I don't imagine anybody is confused about what faith I have. I'm proud of my faith. I'm not going to distance myself from my faith in any way. If that sinks my candidacy, so be it. But I don't believe this is a campaign about which church you go to. I think it's a campaign about what direction America is going to take. We face extraordinary challenges and I think I've got the skills and the vision and the experience to get America on the right track.
LAUER: One of the subjects a lot of people are concerned about is immigration.
From Romney's December 6 speech:
ROMNEY: Over the last year, we've embarked on a national debate and how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I'll also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my presidency, if I were elected.
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they're at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ... Our Constitution" he said, "was made [sic: only] for a moral and religious people.' "
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I'll answer them today.
ROMNEY: We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation under God, and in God we do indeed trust.
We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders -- in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty.
The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.
In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me -- and so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen. We do not insist on a single strain of religion; rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.
Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray, but there were objections. They were too divided in religious sentiments, what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.