NPR Brings Along Dirty-Joking 'Token Mormon' to Offer Approval of South Park Pair's Musical

Just like ABC making Jake Tapper drama critic for a day, NPR sent reporter Robert Smith to view and honor the new musical The Book of Mormon for All Things Considered. Anchor Robert Siegel began: "The show was not written or endorsed by the church. It is a searing comedy from the team behind South Park. NPR's Robert Smith reports that the production is probably the most offensive, yet sweetest, show on Broadway."

Smith brought along Elna Baker, a self-proclaimed "token Mormon," to approve the show. On Friday night, NPR read a letter from a disapproving listener in Connecticut: "Trying to legitimize this play by having one Mormon say she saw it and thought it was funny doesn't hold with me. Maybe if you could have gotten a high-ranking official of the Mormon Church to say that they thought the play was in good taste would have been more appropriate." 

So who is Elna Baker? It turns out she's a Mormon stand-up comedian who's also appeared on NPR's This American Life, and knows her away around very "adult" humor, like these jokes on her blog about the 50 most common lies she tells:

1. I have a black man’s penis.  

4. My boobs are real.

7. Yes, I did sleep with Don Rickles in the Spring of '94 and it was HOT.

17. This is my real vagina.

NPR is stacking the deck a bit, don't you think?  Here's how NPR used Baker in the segment, to suggest this musical isn't really anti-Mormon:

ROBERT SMITH: In the end, the least offensive part of this musical might just be the way they treat the Mormon faith. I even brought a member of the LDS church to a preview just to make sure I wasn't imagining it.

ELNA BAKER: Hi. My name is Elna Baker, the token Mormon.

SMITH: She's also a writer and a comedienne living in New York City. Baker laughed along through the entire show, especially at the insider jokes about Mormon doctrine.

BAKER: Like it was a checklist of all these things that are very particular to Mormon beliefs, and they nailed every single one of them.

SMITH: They skewer the story of Joseph Smith digging up the golden plates. They take a couple of potshots at the Mormon doctrine that kept blacks out of the priesthood until 1978.

BAKER: There's a line where they say, I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob. That is an actual Mormon belief. We do believe that, but taken out of context, or even in context, you do not want anyone to know that you actually believe it.

SMITH: But here's where the sweetness comes in. The Mormons in the musical embrace every quirk of their faith. It makes them stronger and, in the end, the audience who laughed at them, is actually won over.

BAKER: I think it teaches you about how if the whole world is sort of against you or against your ideas, what it requires of you to still believe those things.

SMITH: Now, Elna Baker wants to make this clear. Many Mormons, including her mom, would never make it to the end of this musical. They'd walk out after the first few F words. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not protesting the show. They released a simple statement. 'The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening,' it says, 'but the Book of Mormon, as a volume of scripture will change peoples' lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.' Matt Stone and Trey Parker thought that was just brilliant.

PARKER: Every time we do something on Mormons, their response makes us like them more.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.  

Remember this when people like NPR's Steve Inskeep write dishonest sentences like "Most listeners understand that we're all figuring out the world together, calmly and honestly, in an atmosphere of mutual respect." There is no "mutual respect" in this musical, and NPR is endorsing it fully.   

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis