Mormons and the Media

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?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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13 Responses to Mormons and the Media

  1. LDSSTITANIC says:

    Eeegads…two comments down and it isn’t even 10am (CST). I look at another blog called Get Religion which focuses on the media and how most of the time they do not get religion or get it right. I believe they did address the issue of the FLDS and how they should not be lumped in with the LDS. But I, too, am puzzled by the desire of Utah to be considered mainstream. As far as I know the record still stands that all of “our” profesors are corrupt and all “our” creeds are an abomination.

    It brings to mind the Roman Catholic church and it’s ecumenical efforts. While I admire any group that remains open to dialogue, the fact is they have never repudiated the decision of the council of Trent which declared anyone who believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone to be ANATHEMA (accursed)…this would be most of us on this board. Kinda kills the whole ecumenical spirit doesn’t it?

    I will be curious to hear our LDS friend’s take on this…Blessings!

  2. germit says:

    To all: and here is the 1000lb elephant (well, one of them, at least) walking thru the room: how many times have we heard: “how can you OUTSIDERS tell us (LDS) what we believe..” and here the LDS wants to DEMAND the right to be the arbiter of who can, and cannot use the descriptor, “MORMON” . It really doesn’t matter which group came first, or who has more members, this whole thing reeks of control. Kudos to all press that tell the control freaks in Utah where to park it. They don’t have to feel good about others use of their title: the FLDS feel the same way, I would hazard a guess. To them, the LDS are the “breakaway” sect. Who can possibly claim some kind of proprietary right or privelege?? Answer: some group with an ego the size of the greater far-west territory. Play the watchdog, LDS, this makes you guys look the bully. ps: hats off to Ralph , and others, who see this better than the Utah men-in-black.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    It’s all just an effort to maintain the pure white color the Church would LIKE to have. The media is just bringing out the stains. Truth is that if you look closely at the white sweater of the LDS church, it is riddled with stains. You just can’t see them unless you look up close and in the correct light. Also, people who wear the sweater sometimes refuse to take it off to take a close look at what they are wearing, and also do not notice the stains. The PR system of the church and even its members continue throwing it in the washer with some bleach. Eventually I imagine the sweater will weaken and no amount of Relief Societ sewing club will be able to patch it up.

    That being said, I’m sure this blog will start to be led into the “well Christians can’t say that Mormons aren’t Christians if LDS can’t say FLDS arent Mormons. That should be and has been on another blog, but here we go…

    What is the big difference in doctrine and belief besides who the succeeding prophets are between FLDS and LDS.. Anyone know? From what I hear, FLDS is just old school Mormonism. Hard to decide who the break away sect is when both seem so much the same, right?

  4. MormonMediaObserver says:

    Thanks for reading my blog. I also happen to have a another kind of dictionary on my desk that is also on the desk of most journalists around the world. It’s called the Associated Press Stylebook:

    In the 2006 version of the AP Stylebook on page 48, in the entry “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” under the heading “splinter groups” it reads: “The term Mormon is not properly applied to other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted after (Joseph) Smith’s death.” To use the term “Mormon Church” is also a violation of AP style. The AP says to write “Mormon church” to indicate it is not a formal name and encourages journalists to cite the full name of the church in articles about church activities.

    Even if you want to fight about semantics, using the term “Mormon” causes confusion. If journalists are doing their job they should seek to clarify rather than confuse.

    It sounds like you have a quibble with the world’s largest newsgathering organization.
    Joel Campbell

  5. germit says:

    To all: I’ll burn the 3rd post and go farther with Jeff’s thot: I’ll fight tooth and nail (hopefully with charity to individuals) anyone claiming to be LDS and christian, to me those are mutually exclusive sets, BUT I DEFEND THEIR RIGHT TO MAKE THAT CLAIM: THIS IS NOT, THANK GOD, A THEOCRACY (YET). JS, in his Napoleonic tights, brandishing a sword, head of the Nauvoo Legion is a pathetic sight, but an error that has been often seen throughout history: we live in a plurocracy, and Mormons have a right to say “we are the real christianity” , just as I have the right and privelege, to stand up and refute that claim as best I can. This can be done civilly, and with dignity, on all sides, that does not mean that it will always look like Mr.Rogers in his button down sweater singing ‘Will You Be My Neighbor”. LDS can claim this or that all they want, it’s a great country we have that allows that kind of freedom, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m for freedom of all kinds of speech, their’s included. GERMIT

  6. falcon says:

    Just a thought but what set of beliefs does a group have to have to be called Mormon? I wouldn’t call myself a Mormon, but Mormons want to be called Christian. Would they object to me calling myself a Mormon? I don’t believe in anything the Mormon church believes in. Do Mormons believe in anything traditional Christianity believes in? I can’t think of anything right off the top of my head. Do the FLDS and the UtahLDS have anything in common? So for Mormons to call themselves Christian or for me to call myself Mormon isn’t accurate and is in fact totally misleading. Just list a basic set of core beliefs and do the old checkoff. Can I call myself a vegetarian because I eat vegetables? Can I call myself prochoice if a don’t believe in abortion. Words/terms/labels need definitions.

  7. JessicaJoy says:

    From what I understand the FLDS believe they are the only true Mormons since they are following the BoM literally regarding polygamy. From what I understand, they view the mainstream LDS as apostates and I have seen comparisons where Warren Jeffs more closely resembles Joseph Smith than the living prophet of the mainstream LDS church.

  8. GRCluff says:

    Great article Sharon — for me it leads to some interesting conclusions.

    1. The Catholic (universal) church should be calling themselves a “Christian sect”. It is really not that universal anymore.

    2. Since Protestants broke off from Catholic, they should call themselves “Catholic sects”.

    falcon:
    “Do Mormons believe in anything traditional Christianity believes in? I can’t think of anything right off the top of my head.”

    Exactly what IS in the top of your head?

    Put this inside for a couple minutes:
    Mormons believe that a man called Jesus Christ is the creator and savior of the world.

    Are you saying that traditional Christianity has stopped believing that? I know they have strayed but that is a bit far!

    I think a more fair approach should be qualified Christianity:

    1. Universal (Catholic) Christianity

    2. Protestant Christianity(could make the Catholics happy)

    3. Restored Christianity.(Mormons of course)

    FLDS and LDS both believe in Restored Christianity, so they can be loosely connected, like Methodists and Lutherians.

  9. germit says:

    Sharon: interesting article, as usual: you don’t get thanked often enough for your hard work at Mormon Coffee (are you paying royalties for the title?, maybe you’ll get a bill someday??)
    MormonMedia: and when , or if, the AP changes it’s mind about who gets to be called ‘Mormon’, are they still going to be your authority, since they are so large and all, or do they loose their status once they disagree with men in black? I’m not bagging on them, they are making the best of a Gordian knot, but your giving them some kind of ‘status’ has me amused. I think this could be short lived. The obvious problem with ‘clarity’ here, is that what is clear to YOUR (LDS) satisfaction, might not be too satisfying to the FLDS or any one of several other ‘mormon’ groups. Then what: does the AP decide?? ‘Mormon sect’ seems right on target to me: these are groups that are (seemingly) just as passionate about JS as you are. Who are the AP to tell them they aren’t ‘mormon’ enough to be ‘mormon’? How would they know, anyway?? Welcome to Mormon Coffee, by the way; I’ll remember your post as a possible venue for ‘doing my homework’, Susan, are you listening??
    Cluff: Which syllable of “PROTESTANT” do you not understand: ‘protesting WHAT’ the act of breaking off is built into the title, as for the Catholics, they believe that they never broke off from anyone, they suppose that they are ‘mormon’ in their going back to the original faith . We cold always call them: “the TOTAL APOSTATES THAT NEVER LEFT”, I’ll try that on my Roman Catholic family and report back. ps to Cluff: the walks and deep breaths sound like a great idea.

  10. DJBrown says:

    Bias in the media is a real thing. But nobody is portrayed accurately all the time. I really do not get too worked up about it. I think the church just wants to avoid confusion as to who actually belongs to the church and what they believe- doesn’t every church? I think that is fair.

    I am around people (non-LDS) who equate evangelicals with scandal because all they seem to see in the media are the stories of evangelical preachers and their misdeeds. I know better because I know evangelicals.

  11. Bill McKeever says:

    Perhaps Mr. Campbell could supply us with the genesis of this AP statement. Call me suspicious, but it smacks of the LDS legal department. If so, I think it is safe to assume that they never bothered to ask for the opinions of the other groups that choose to use the title “Mormon.” Once again the Mormon Church demands that others comply with their definitions. The Mormon Church has much more in common with the FLDS than it does with what most Christians believe, yet it chooses to try and align itself with the latter. Now that is confusing.

  12. GRCluff says:

    germit:

    If FLDS can be a Mormon sect, by definition, because they broke off from the LDS church. Then Catholics can be a Christian sect, because they organized the SECOND Christian church. Lets not call them first, the Protestants had plenty to protest about.

    The Protestants now didn’t break off from non-existent Christian church because it had long been obliterated by the power of state backed religion. They really can’t be a Christian sect, because no Christian church existed to break off from. That is why the have to be a Catholic sect.

    That is why a resortation was needed.

    Which syllable of “RESTORED” do you not understand?

  13. germit says:

    CLUFF: you are funny and feisty, I bet you were an extra-strength Postum baby to raise for your blessed Momma. To repeat two nugggets from Bill excellent post: “I’d like to know the genesis of the AP statement..” and “once again the Mormon church demands that others comply with their definitions”. CLUFF, you have thrown yourself headlong into that second statement. We should YOU or I tell the FLDS what they are to call themselves ?? WAs it OK with THEM to avoid using the ‘mormon’ title? Who asked them what THEY wanted ?? You can keep your definitions handy, and use them for your own education and amusement, but the point of the article, and my posts, is that these are matters that are really WAY BEYOND the control of the AP, though I don’t fault them for trying their best to make sense, order, and clarity of a muddled situation. Guaranteed, the FLDS, and the other 100 PLUS groups that ‘own JS’ DO NOT see themselves as ‘breakaway’ from their beloved 1st Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. You don’t own the title “Mormon”, act as if you do all you want, trying to make others comply only makes you look controlling and silly. Blessings on your Feisty Forty-eight yr old head. GERMIT

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