Your View of Mormons in the Media

December 2, 2009 | 13 comments
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I recently had a short discussion with a journalism student about how Mormons and Mormonism get covered in the mainstream media and whether new online media, including blogs, do any better. I’ll summarize my responses below, but I invite readers to offer their own responses in the comments.

1. How do Mormons feel about increased coverage of Mormonism in the mainstream media that accompanied Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy?

I don’t know any Mormon who resents the increased coverage or wishes the media would stop talking about Mormonism. Of course, it is nice when journalists who include references to Mormonism in their stories get the details right. I think the LDS Newsroom has had some success helping journalists get some of the details right, such as distinguishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other churches or splinter groups that still come under the larger umbrella of “Mormonism,” some of which continue to practice polygamy.

2. Do you feel there is any consistent bias against Mormonism in mainstream media coverage of Mormonism or the LDS Church?

Not in the narrow sense of particular animus against Mormons or Mormonism. I think bias does play a role in media stories on religion in general. Maybe that’s because journalists cluster towards the liberal end of the political spectrum and don’t think much of organized religion or maybe that’s because journalists tend to be more secular than religious in their personal beliefs. I think some of that bias against or unfamiliarity with religion in general does carry over to stories on Mormonism.

3. Does the new online media, including blogs, provide better information about Mormonism?

I don’t know if it is better information, but it certainly provides more information and makes it more accessible to anyone who can Google a couple of keywords. Twenty years ago, someone who wanted to learn about Mormonism was limited to what was in an encyclopedia, their library, or the local bookstore, and they had to go hunt it down. Now much more infomation is available in seconds to anyone with a browser. There’s a lot of misinformation as well as reliable information, of course, but I think most readers can tell the difference. Furthermore, blogs and other forums allow for lively, wide-ranging discussion of every conceivable topic related to Mormonism, a form of information that was never available at the public library.

13 Responses to Your View of Mormons in the Media

  1. Stephan F- on December 2, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I’d just like it if they got the name of the church right. I always see it as The Church of Latter Day Saints. Notice what’s missing?
    But mostly they seem not particularly biased anymore, which is nice.

  2. Alison Moore Smith on December 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I think the confusion about splinter groups will only be reduced with a clarification about polygamy from the church itself. Simply saying, “it’s in the past” when, in theology and practice (speaking of sealings), it’s not, doesn’t go very far — even for the members.

    Other than that, I don’t find the coverage too troubling. There was a time when ANYTIME a Mormon did anythings remotely questionable, his/her religion was the first thing in the news. Now it seems more in line with other reporting, with religion only being mentioned if it’s actually germane, such as when a local leader does something to harm his congregation.

  3. Garrett on December 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    All of the attention is a very good thing. Of course, it is increasing anti-mormon bigotry because of our well-pronounced stand on gay rights and abortion, but at least it gets it out in the spotlight. Before and after seeing or reading about the mormons in the media, these people can look around at their mormon friends and see what we’re ACTUALLY like. The negative vibe should turn into a positive one, assuming we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

  4. Christopher on December 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Garrett, I haven’t seen much in the news lately on the LDS church’s “well-pronounced stand … on abortion.” Was there a specific event in which the LDS church’s stance on abortion was recently on display?

    Thanks for the post, Dave.

  5. Marc Bohn on December 2, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    “2. Do you feel there is any consistent bias against Mormonism in mainstream media coverage of Mormonism or the LDS Church?”

    I think laziness and bad-fact-checking is often mistaken for “liberal bias.”

  6. Clean Cut on December 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve been generally impressed by major media coverage. Most bias/bigotry comes out from individuals in the comments sections (in articles that have commenting).

  7. Velska on December 2, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I think your views are a bit rosy from my point of view. Although mostly the bias is not against Mormons in particular, but religion in general.

    And some splinter groups and some individuals (ahem, Glenn Beck) make for a good target for ridicule, using them as a starting point to lambaste all religious people.

    A lot depends on which is your personal bias of choice — is your main source of news Fox or MSNBC; one can get wildly different ideas of news from those sources, neither of which is professionally detached as a good journalist must be. If a journalist feels very strongly about a subject, s/he becomes a polemic writer rather than a journalist.

    And that’s my personal bias… :)
    But I stand behind it!

  8. zionlist.com on December 2, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Glenn Beck is an embarassment to Mormons I think : (

  9. Ida Tarbell on December 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Most owners of media conglomerates are conservative and therefore a liberal reporter will ultimately need to placate a conservative boss. If you compare the actual liberal media–The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, etc–to the mainstream media you are likely to see a stark contrast. Yes, Maddow and Olberman are exceptions, but they are more than canceled out by “journalists” like Britt Hume.

    Where is the Mormon connection in my rant? The Church is well-connected to corporate America and should therefore expect to be cut a little slack.

  10. Bill of Wasilla on December 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I think that the worst thing to happen Mormon-wise in the media is Glenn Beck.

    He does not represent the church, but too many people see the hatred and misinformation that he spews and think, “ah, Mormons!”

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Certainly ignorance is a large part of the misinformation as well as bias that comes through the mainstream news media. On the Church’s official 2002 Olympics DVD, there is the full interview between Tom Brokaw and President Hinckley, and Brokaw actually thought that the standards for entering LDS temples were applied to anyone attending an LDS meetinghouse on Sunday. That is such a basic misunderstanding that it is hard for Mormons to even detect it is out there. And there are plenty more where that one came from. The lack of familiarity that most people have with even the basics of Mormonism makes it hard to even get to first base to reach an understanding on anything.

    Second, while there is certainly a general bias among many reporters against sincere religious belief, they get to indulge it more against Mormons because we are a minority nationally, because few people know enough to recognize when a reporter is lying or ignorant, and the idea of contemporary prophets and miracles, as distinct form ones 2,000 years in the past, is much more challenging to an agnostic or atheist.

    Third, there is prejudice against Mormonism from people of certain religious persuasions, who are sensitive to the direct theological challenge which Mormonism offers to creedal Christianity. The entire rationale for the Restoration is the loss of truth and authority by 1830, and that does not sit well with people who claim continuity ofr both or that both come via reading the Bible. Mormons tend to talk more about those losses than the large amount of truth that was preserved over millenia, so it should not be a surprise that some people, including some who write articles and books, have decided that the best way to defend their own religious legitimacy is by attacking the Restoration thesis. We are in a Catch 22: To make converts and justify the Church’s mission, we need to make the distinction from traditional Christianity in order to legitimize Mormonism, but it is the distinction that those in traditional Christianity think illegitimizes us. On the other hand, the Protestants have the same problem vis-a-vis Catholicism, but relations seem to be much more positive there than they were a century ago.

  12. Mike in Rexburg on December 8, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I have to agree with comment 8 about Glenn Beck. He’s just too opinionated.

  13. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on December 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Mormonism is a crutch, a handy device on getting around on all six. It really is not an actual likeness of how we walk. It is made of wood or metal, hardly a part of flesh and blood. Its parameters are set by the least among us. Not a good sign. Certainly in the Media and technology; where speed of communication is demanded rather than accuracy, I much prefer Joseph Smith’s Wentworth letter or Articles of faith.

    Glenn Beck is the outcome of our sick Republican/Democrat bi-partisanism in all 50 states. Also a crutch of the political variety. Beck and his fellow detractors are what is left to defend what should be right for the USA. He is a man I do not admire. A man who operates emotionally and as a public spokesman seldom checks the accuracy of his drivel. They have become everything that is wrong. In contrast that make the whoremongering hypocrits of the Republican/Democrat variety look pretty good.

    Today evil trumps what’s good in the USA. The Articles of Faith undeniably point that as Latter-day Saints we belief in being subject to authority. The issue is not what Beck stands for, but what those who stand before us, the Tiger Woods, the Charlie Rangels, the Governor Sanfords and Senator Ensign do?

    The evil is not only Glenn Beck and his ilk. They are not an authority and as far as I know they do not make a claim for it. They seek the authority. They are as frustrated as I am. Our political Bi-partisan crutch has left us without wholesome choices of what to buy or whom to vote for. If, in this technological Age, the multitude rule over the hypocritical Rulers, who, then is the authority?

    Today is the day, we, as Latter-day Saints, must upgrade our Mormonism crutch. It is not done through technology or the Media. This is the day of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus of Nazareth. At the end of this day He will be crowned a King over this world by His Father. Would He permit the building of over 130 Temples throughout the world, if He was not sure of succeeding? That choice is before us.

    It is not Glenn Beck nor the hypocrits, who claim to be our Rulers. They have already forgotten the 10 Rules [commnandments] Jehovah/Jesus brought to Israel through Moses.