Last week Joel Campbell over at Mormon Times posted two columns (Wednesday and Saturday) dealing with the media and its treatment of Mormon issues. Wednesday’s column asked, “FLDS: Does the media get it yet?” Mr. Campbell took a look at how well the media is doing now, a month and a half after the LDS Church asked journalists to stop using the terms like “Mormon fundamentalists” and “Mormon polygamists” when reporting on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to Mr. Campbell, the frequency of the use of those terms is generally much lower now than before the Church made its request. However, terms including “renegade Mormon sect” and “breakaway Mormon sect” are still causing some consternation for the Church. Mr. Campbell wrote of one example,
“The Salt Lake Tribune has allowed the term ‘Mormon fundamentalist’ to appear in some of its recent news stories, including the front-page story about a home for fundamentalist grandmothers. The story was picked up by the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News, which ran the inaccurate headline ‘Mormon sect finds a home for its grandmothers.'”
Actually, the term “Mormon sect” could hardly be more accurate when applied to the FLDS Church. The dictionary definition of “sect” is “a group that has separated from an established church; a non-conformist church.” While it has not always used the FLDS name, the beginning of that church can be traced back to a separation from the LDS Church. The term “Mormon sect” identifies the FLDS group as one that has separated from an established church, and it identifies from which church it separated. The term is informative and correct. Latter-day Saints don’t like it, but their dislike of the facts does not change the facts.
Mr. Campbell’s Saturday column at Mormon Times was about how his readers responded to a question he asked of them: “So are Mormons treated fairly when the media chooses to identify religious affiliation of a story subject?” The responses he included are fairly typical: journalists are biased and lazy and sensationalize stories to put the Church in a bad light. I’m not sure what these folks are reading or watching, but the stories that come across my desk most often include glowing reports about Mormons joining other faith groups in providing disaster relief, Mormons going on missions, or Mormons winning Mrs. America pageants (etc.). Sure, there are occasional stories of fraud or child abuse, but from my perspective it seems that the LDS Church’s Public Relations firm is earning its fee well.
One of Mr. Campbell’s readers commented:
“The media are all a bunch of Johnny-one-notes when it comes to our faith. There really does seem to be a herd mentality, because every reporter falls back on the same tired tropes when it comes to Mormonism, almost as if newsroom computer keyboards have a macro set up (control-M?) to spew out ‘Big Love, 1978 revelation, magical underwear, evangelicals hate Mormons’ whenever a member of the Church (or the Church itself) makes news.”
This man decried the media’s use of “the same done-to-death stereotypes” in describing Mormons; but he didn’t express any concern over the repetitious use of the more positive stereotypes provided to the media by the LDS Church. It’s only natural that Mormons would want their church portrayed before the public in the best possible light, yet wholly positive stereotypes paint a picture no more accurate than negative stereotypes do.
In Utah they say there’s a great divide between the Mormons and the non-Mormons. Mormonism is often like that – black or white, all or nothing. If media reporting is not always positive about the LDS Church, it is perceived as being always negative. If the media uses the word “Mormon” in reports on FLDS news stories, though journalists may make an effort to use the word accurately and clarify possible public misperceptions regarding the LDS Church and today’s polygamy, Mormons think the media just doesn’t get it; and worse, the newspapers are accused of confusing people with inaccurate and misleading information.
That’s how Mr. Campbell and his readers at Mormon Times see it. I wonder how the readers here at Mormon Coffee would answer Mr. Campbell’s questions?