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SALT LAKE CITY — A national cable talk show apologized Wednesday night for comments he made about the origin of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While criticizing comments GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney made about President Barack Obama and secularism last week, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell claimed, "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."
I am truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith, and I am happy to provide equal time on this show to correct any inaccuracy.
Then O'Donnell added, "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."
The talk show host said his original point was that it's wrong for people to reject any candidate because of their faith. But in making his point, O'Donnell's words were sharp, flippant and inaccurate about the origin of the LDS faith.
As a result, there was backlash.
O'Donnell admitted there were people of all faiths offended. The KSL newsroom was flooded with calls and emails from upset viewers.
Online, on Time magazine's Swampland (the site's political page) author Michael Scherer suggested O'Donnell would never question Scherer's own Jewish faith.
"O'Donnell wouldn't suggest Abraham's apparent willingness to murder his own son would reflect on my own judgment and values," Sherer wrote.
FOX's Bill O'Reilly piled on as well. He was quoted in the Time article as, "It's like saying no Episcopalian or Anglican could run for president because of Henry VII."
Wednesday night, O'Donnell offered an apology. "I am truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith, and I am happy to provide equal time on this show to correct any inaccuracy," he said.
Along the way, O'Donnell traversed into the crossfire of religion and politics — something Westminster political science professor Bob Seltzer said is dangerous.
"This was one guy popping off, saying something stupid," Seltzer said. "It does not represent the level of political discourse held in this country by the candidates themselves."
Romney's religion may come up again in the campaign, but likely not from President Obama. He's had to deal with false statements himself regarding religion. For example, some have accused him of being a Muslim, a claim which has no basis in fact.
Contributing: Paul Nelson