May 3, 2007

Novak's Despicable Column

Robert Novak has a long career in punditry, so perhaps he has written a more despicable column than today's effort to link Mitt Romney to a massacre -- in 1857. Novak uses the release of a film that depicts the early Western atrocity conducted by Mormons on a band of travelers that coincidentally happened on September 11th, 150 years ago:

Opening Friday, a motion picture called "September Dawn" depicts a brutal American massacre that has been forgotten. On Sept. 11, 1857, in Utah Territory, Mormons slaughtered more than 120 California-bound settlers from Arkansas. Retelling at this time the Sept. 11 carnage of 150 years ago does not help Mormon Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

The basic facts of the Mountain Meadows Massacre are not in dispute. Mormons mobilized Paiute Indians, accompanied by Mormons disguised as Indians, to attack a peaceful wagon train. The settlers beat back the attack but were left short of food and ammunition. They disarmed at the request of the Mormons, who said they would lead the settlers to safety but instead turned on them, murdering every man, woman and child above age 8. All that is in doubt historically is whether this was ordered by Brigham Young, president of the Mormon Church and territorial governor of Utah. "September Dawn" says he was responsible; the church denies it.

Today's Mormons, including Romney, cannot be blamed for those events. Nevertheless, the candidate has followed the church's example and ignored the movie. Romney will not comment on "September Dawn" and indeed will not watch it. That follows his decision not to defend his faith or actively fight religious bias that has impeded his candidacy.

I attended an April 11 screening of the movie at the Motion Picture Association of America headquarters in Washington hosted by its lead actor: Academy Award-winner Jon Voight (who plays a fictional Mormon bishop). A conservative, Voight said this was no hit on Romney. "I didn't even know he was running when we began this," he told viewers after the screening. But he said this terrible story is important considering America's war against terrorists.

It most certainly is not important in light of our war against terrorists, whatever that means. It has nothing more to do with Romney than the Inquisition did with John F. Kennedy, or the genocide of Native Americans do to today's political leadership. It took place 150 years ago, and everyone involved in the atrocity died decades ago, at the least. If Novak now takes his political direction from Jon Voight, that says more about Novak than Romney.

Novak's entire column wants to place historical blame for all ills of the Mormon church squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney. Novak, at the end of his piece, notes that Romney wouldn't discuss the movie with Novak, and apparently that annoyed the columnist to no end. I don't blame Mitt one bit. The movie has nothing to do with Mitt and nothing to do with the campaign -- and that's even if one could rely on Hollywood to handle history with any accuracy at all.

This is nothing more than an attempt to use a fear of Mormons to smear Mitt Romney, with all the subtlety of a brick blackjack. It's the worst kind of religious bigotry wrapped up in Novak's dire language that it relates to the current war against Islamofascist terrorism, a charge that Novak never even bothers to support in his column. It's designed to force Romney to start conducting Mormon apologetics on the campaign trail instead of talking about public policy and national security.

Novak should be ashamed of himself, and the Post should consider a retraction or at least an apology to Romney. This is one column that should have been deep-sixed by those series of editorial checks about which bloggers keep hearing whenever the national press wants to prove its superiority.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Hugh Hewitt's take on this as well.


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Comments (20)

Posted by Brooklyn [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 1:43 PM

simply an outrage...

simply disgusting...

thank you for this post.

such a regretful effort by Mr. Novak.

Posted by OC Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 1:58 PM

Frankly, I didn't see that Novak's column was a hit piece. I admit that I only quickly read through about half of it before I lost interest, but I took it as just one of those things that reporters/columnists find to write about when there isn't anything else of substance.

I had not heard of this massacre nor of the movie before this. And I won't be seeing the movie.

Posted by Faith1 [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:17 PM

I wonder if Novak will go after Lieberman since, well, Ole Mel Gibson made a movie about Jews killing Jesus and all....

Posted by hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:19 PM

What is the connection between fighting terrorists and a story about historical banditry?

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:22 PM

Robert Novak: "Today's Mormons, including Romney, cannot be blamed for those events."

Cap'n: "Novak's entire column wants to place historical blame for all ills of the Mormon church squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney. "

In all honesty, this post is more of a "hit job" on Novak and MSM than Novak's column is on Romney.

When JFK was the first catholic running for the office of presidency (or when he ran to become the first catholic president), he spoke openly about his religion and concerns people had about it.

With terms like Islomofascism thrown around these days, I don't think anyone should be surprised of prejudices against foreign religions existing in the 21st century.

Polls have shown that a large percentage of Americans will not vote for a Mormon. The issue that Novak is getting at with this column is that Romney is not addressing this issue.

To compound things, Morman ARE known to be close-nit and tight-lipped. They are very guarded and some say very heavy-handed when it comes to their history.

This is going to be an issue for Romney. That's what Novak is saying. He's NOT "to place historical blame for all ills of the Mormon church squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney."

Like Kennedy, Romney is going to have to address his religion sooner or later.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:23 PM

Since we're talking about 1857, maybe Mitt can apologize for Mountain Meadows right after a couple of the other candidates on stage apologize for owning slaves. I apologize for those Viking raids on Ireland. I told Knut it was a bad idea, but he wouldn't listen.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:36 PM

The Mormon Church has long been defensive and guarded about this massacre... even warning people not to promote the conclusion that BY ordered the attacks (i've heard about an instance of this second hand).

I've known about this massacre and the Mormon Church's handling of it for a while (well before I knew who Mitt Romney is), so I think I can understand better how this is an issue for Romney.

Many Americans have reservations about voting for a Mormon. Romney has chosen not to address this in anyway.

Now, a major film is being released portraying the leader of his church as a person who ordered the massacre of women and children, and he still refuses to addresses it.

I think he may feel the more he gets into this, the worse off he's going to be. But I still think he's going to need to address his religion... talk about it -- not defend it -- but just TALK about it, if he's going to win the presidency.

Posted by Only_One_Cannoli [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 2:41 PM

I agree with OC Chuck. It's a stupid editorial by Novak but I don't know if it proves that Novak has an anti-Romney agenda. It does make Novak look like a lazy bonehead scratching for a story.

key phrase for me: "... Jon Voight (who plays a fictional Mormon bishop)." Gee, another fake but accurate historical film from Hollywood.

Rumor is next week Novak's doing a piece on the Godfather trilogy and how Giuliani refuses to discuss Michael Corleone's move against Moe Greene, Vegas mobsters and all that.

Posted by MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 3:07 PM

Hasn't Novak reached his expiration date yet?

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 4:50 PM

I don't know much Mormon history, but if Brigham Young had some hand in ordering the massacre, does that make any difference? I don't think the Mormons ever say their church leaders are without sin. And as I understand it, the Church is based on Joseph Smith's prophecy, not on Brigham Young's. Young just managed to lead them out into the desert. I guess you have to be Mormon to understand why that was good thing. Maybe so nobody would envy them enough to follow? That must be it.

Posted by fejj [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 5:18 PM

Tom Shipley
Novak has taken the intellectually lazy route and believes the meme of the movie - that Brigham Young ordered this massacre. There is no credible evidence that this was ever the case (and anti-Mormon books stating that is was the case doesn't make it the case).

Local Indians were outraged by the behavior of the “Wildcats” (the roughneck immigrant guides from Missouri) some who had shot Utah Indians on sight and without prior provovcation. They turned to local Mormons for help as they considered them allies due to the animosity the Mormon settlers may have still held due to prior persecutions in Missouri. The Indians demanded that the local Mormons join with them in killing members of the wagon train and Wildcats in retaliation. Some Indians even threatened the local Mormons with harm if they did not join them. A handful of young and impressionable Mormon men agreed to join the Indians. Local LDS church leaders dispatched a fast rider to Salt Lake City to ask President Brigham Young what should be done. President Young instructed the local Saints that they should protect the wagon train at all costs and not participate in any retaliation. With 500 miles of rugged terrain to cover for the return journey, by the time the rider returned with Young's message, the massacre had occurred. All Mormons who participated in this killing were excommunicated from the church and the leader was eventually executed when tried in secular courts for murder.

So how is Mitt Romney responsible to even answer questions on this issue let alone comment on a movie taking one particular slant on this controversy unfavorable to the LDS church? Is Guiliani responsible for the Catholic Inquisition and the Sale of Indulgences? Is Lieberman responsible for the Jewish complicity in the death of Christ as the New Testament details? This was shabby journalism and asks a question that ought never be asked.

Posted by hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 5:20 PM

Thou protesteth too much.
The column is not a particularly tough hit job. I frankly see it as someone trying to get their hands around the issue of Mormonism. Hugh thought it was worthy as the title of a book on the subject. If the topic is out there, then people have the right to talk about it. Hugh did not copyright the issue; he copyrighted his take on it.
I think Romney has done well with the issue so far. I don't think Novak's column is going to change that, or many minds either.
But this does make me not look forward to my long drive home. I can bet what HH is going to be saying about it.

Posted by Ned [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 5:54 PM

Read "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Juanita Brooks. It is a excellent account of what happened and what led up to the events of that day.

feji, It is only about 250 miles from Salt Lake City to to Mountain Meadows Massacre site and not that rugged of terrain. One of many facts you have wrong. You are correct in saying Mitt is not responsible for any of the wrongs committed that day.

Posted by Stormy70 [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 8:09 PM

This movie is actually made by a couple of conservatives and it was conceived before we had a Mormon running for President. Read Libertas, the conservative movie blog to get the scoop on this picture.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 3, 2007 11:18 PM


Don't attack or protest when apology is in order. The fact that local LDS leaders had to ask their leaders in Salt Lake City what to do is proof enough of the crime by an entire stake -- there don't appear to have been any "Saints" here at all. Only one man was prosecuted and convicted for what were the actions of many; that says something too. Didn't these people have any morality? Does not seem so.

Mitt will have to address the issue of his religious affiliation, just as we Catholics have to bear the issue of pedophile (gay) priests harming the flock.

And the Captain is wrong -- ever wonder why all those Native American casinos are springing up all over the place? Why are only certain ethnic groups, and no others, permitted to purchase land, take it outside all tax systems, impose their own legal system on that land, and then build a casino upon it? Reparations, anyone?

Posted by Bitter Pill [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 4, 2007 6:09 AM

"To compound things, Morman ARE known to be close-nit and tight-lipped. They are very guarded and some say very heavy-handed when it comes to their history."

Pssst, Tom Shipley. Your bigotry is showing.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 4, 2007 6:54 AM


I'm just reacting to what I've seen, heard, read... And honestly, out of all the republican candidates, I probably would prefer Romney.


Cap'n, if Novak's column is despicable, what was Insight's (and subsequently Fox New's) story on Obama going to school at a Madrassa? I believe your issue with that story was that it was based off a single-source. Not that it used a false take on Obama's religious past and twisted into:

"CALLER: Right. I mean, you think that would possibly give him better insight on the enemy, maybe he doesn’t consider terrorists the enemy.

KILMEADE: Well, we’ll see about that. Yeah, Josh says that."

Where was all the outrage back then? This is small potatoes compared to the Obama/Madrassa Fox News "story."

Posted by Ripper [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 4, 2007 7:51 AM

I am surprised that Robert Novak somehow avoided blaming the Mountain Meadows Massacre on Israel.

Posted by Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 4, 2007 11:27 AM

I don't get the outrage at this story. Novak's piece doesn't seem particularly galling to me. He seems to be more critical of Romney's refusal to comment on the possible impact of his religion on his campaign. Romney apparently feels that the issue is beneath comment, and Novak feels that he should be addressing it. If that's a hit piece, then maybe we should redefine the term.

I see that Novak quotes Jon Voight, who stars in the film. I read an interview he gave that showed Mr. Voight understands the present global conflict a lot better than most of our politicians.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 4, 2007 9:06 PM

Bitter Pill,

Bigotry is in the eye of the beholder. I lived in Granger, Utah, for a year as a child. My dad had gotten a job as a prototype machinist and moved there to take the job.

During the time I was there, kids in the neighborhood were ordered not to play with me because I was (and still am) a Catholic. Some of these kids, taking a cue from things their parents must have said, would throw rocks at my siblings and me; they would go out into the fields behind my house and wait until one of us came into the back yard, and then they would bombard us, yelling epithets. Because they were hidden in the tall grass, we never did figure out who they were, other than that they were male and around my age.

It was not a nice time in my life, but in the end, everything worked out for the better -- my dad got fired from his job because his bosses were ordered by a Bishop to make room for an out-of-work Mormon machinist, and we moved to LA where my dad went to work for the Burbank Skunkworks and I didn't have to worry any more about watching my back.

In my estimation, when "bigotry" is rooted in fact, it isn't quite bigotry.

I don't think Mitt has to apologize for such incidents, but he has to show, like every Republican candidate, that he values the lives of every human being, and has in his heart a level of tolerance which unfortunately many of his chosen creed lack.