A recent verbal back-and-forth through the media got me thinking about ways in which we talk past one another by including or omitting information as it suites our arguments alone. Recently Montana’s Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, made a comment concerning Mitt Romney’s family history. Specifically, that Romney’s father was born into a polygamist commune in Mexico. This prompted a curt reaction from the Romney camp, and lots of media coverage on the subject, but little solid investigatory journalism. Why not dig just a bit deeper?
For example, the Boston Globe incorrectly states Schweitzer claimed Romney’s grandfather was a polygamist, which Schweitzer did not state, but Romney’s camp responded as if he did.
CBS News tries to give the broader background, outlining the progression from Mitt, to his father George, to his father Gaskell, to his father (and the only polygamist) Miles. They also are one of the few sites willing to describe Schweitzer’s comments as accurate.
The Christian Science Monitor presents the various parties’ quotes surrounding the subject, while also adding that the Obama campaign has distanced themselves from Schweitzer’s comments, citing religion as a off-limits subject in the campaign, when really they ought to be worried about the same line of questioning being directed at Obama’s heritage.
Fox’s angle in the article “Romney takes the High Road” only mentions that Romney’s father was born in Mexico, not outright stating like some others that he was born into a polygamist commune. They do mention his time as CEO of American Motors and Governor of Michigan.
This Washington Post write-up on the tiff between Mitt Romney and Brian Schweitzer is remarkably free of information. We learn, for the sixth or seventh time, that Gov. Schweitzer will not apologize for what he told Ben Jacobs — that Mitt Romney “will probably not choose to highlight his own family’s connection to Mexico as a way of reaching out to Hispanics, because that history involves a polygamy colony.” And we learn that Romney is offended.
“My dad’s dad was not a polygamist. My dad grew up in a family with a mom and a dad and a few brothers and one sister,” Romney told Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron. “They lived in Mexico and lived a very nice life there, from what I understand, and then when he was 5 or 6 years old there was a revolution in Mexico. They escaped … My dad had a very tough upbringing.”
The write-up wraps with this: “Romney’s father, George, was born in Mexico and moved to the United States as a child. He went on to become the governor of Michigan.” Which… doesn’t tell us what’s being discussed. Let’s go back to what Schweitzer told Jacobs.
While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”
Schweitzer did not say that Romney’s “dad’s dad was a polygamist.” He said that Romney’s dad was born into a “polygamy commune in Mexico.” This is true. In the 1880s, Miles Romney — the great-grandfather of the current GOP candidate — established a commune in Mexico with the express purpose of allowing the church to continue that practice after the United States cracked down on it. Miles took another wife in 1897, while living in the colony. Gaskell Romney, his son, didn’t engage in plural marriage. So both Romney and Schweitzer, talking past each other, are right.
Why freak out and ignore the facts of the story? It would be stupid to vote against a candidate because of something his ancestors did, but the Mexico connection is a unique line in the Romney biography that the candidate [has] deployed when in a pinch. In one debate in Florida, Romney said he couldn’t be anti-immigrant because ”my father was born in Mexico.” But he doesn’t say this too often… because saying it cracks open the polygamy history…
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be a little more open and honest with our politicians, and if the media could do their job a bit better?