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MSNBC's O'Donnell apologizes for Joseph Smith comments

Published April 12, 2012 10:54 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Wednesday walked back comments he made a week earlier about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its founder, Joseph Smith.

"I am truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith," O'Donnell said on the air, repeating his invitation to have an LDS spokesperson on his show, "The Last Word." (O'Donnell said LDS officials have declined previous invitations, though always politely and after "enlightening conversations we have had off the record.")

The statements — which, according to Michael Scherer on Time.com, muddled the history of Smith's creation of the LDS Church and his instituting the practice of polygamy — drew many harsh criticisms, especially on Twitter, O'Donnell said.

The statements were made in the context of slamming former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over the presidential candidate's claims that President Barack Obama is involved with "a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism."

O'Donnell on Wednesday argued that the offensive references to Joseph Smith "ripped some people's attention away from my point, that we should not tolerate religious intolerance in voting."

After making his apology, O'Donnell called out Romney. "We can all patiently await Mitt Romney's apology for lying about President Obama trying to create a new religion," O'Donnell said. "But we must be prepared for a long wait, because, oddly enough, not a single person who objected to what I said has also objected to Mitt Romney's lie about President Obama's religion."

UPDATE: Here are the two sentences from O'Donnell's April 3 comment for which he apologized:

Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it, which Mitt Romney says he believes.

Time.com's Scherer interviews Richard Lyman Bushman, author of the Joseph Smith biography Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman said Smith's creation of the LDS Church — and his dictation of the Book of Mormon — happened before the scandal involving his maid, Fanny Alger. The church was also founded before Smith's revelation that God would permit a return to plural marriages.