Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Deseret News censorship says about LDS Church

Posted By on September 1, 2010, 10:33 AM

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I always thought censorship at the Deseret News was motivated entirely by politics. Think gay marriage: less coverage of couples hurt by their lack of access to marriage perhaps results in less political will for reform. But that's not the whole picture.--- 

The first I heard of censorship at the LDS-Church-owned DNews came after the byline strike, which occurred a few months after Prop. 8 was approved by California voters. Former DNews editor and current CW managing editor Josh Loftin instigated that byline strike to protest the Mormon-friendly tone that new editor Joe Cannon was imposing on the newsroom by killing stories that might be unflattering of the newspaper's owner, or, for example, refusing to assign a reporter to a gay-rights rally. It wasn't just gay-related stories that got that treatment, Loftin said then (as now), but as the Prop. 8 debate/debacle heated up, censorship was brought into stark relief.

The LDS Church famously opposes gay marriage and thus decreasing the coverage of the difficulty--and sometimes suffering--that LGBT people experience as a result of not having same-sex marriage might decrease the political will among the populace to change the laws. Seems simple, right?

Not so much. One example of DNews censorship involved--but was not motivated by--censoring LDS Church's own statements and viewpoints. I was told by a DNews staffer who was fired yesterday that a recently censored story concerned immigration (staffer requested to remain anonymous to protect their severance package). This staffer told me that earlier this summer a Salt Lake-area activist informed the DNews--basically--that some white-bred, anti-immigrant Mormons had been giving grief or making uncomfortable some of their Latino Mormon neighbors. It was something like War of the Wardhouse Roses--which sounds like a great, topical, human story, no?

Well, No, not at the DNews, even though the Church's official statement on the immigration debate is right on topic. The LDS Church's stance on this issue just calls for civility in the debate. So, writing a story about the discomfort in the ward then reiterating the LDS Church's call for civility would be an easy daily story with real value, especially for an LDS audience. But it would also reveal how deeply divided Mormons are on this issue, and that's the problem.

The sponsor of Arizona's flashpoint immigration bill is LDS, as is Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, the Utah sponsor of an upcoming Arizona-style immigration law for Utah. If that's all you know, it's easy to stereotype Mormons as heartless law-and-order jerks who do not have compassion for people fleeing poverty and/or strife for a nation of opportunity that itself was built by immigrants. BUT, this story from the Arizona Republic, which reports that two high-profile critics of the Arizona law are also LDS, demonstrates what is so easily--and too often--forgotten in the Gentile Beehive: Mormon people's political, world and spiritual views are not monolithic and many strongly defy stereotypes. Though it's hard to defy the LDS Church's call for civility on immigration, it's quite easy--and increasingly popular, it seems to me--for Mormons to strongly defy church leadership on other burning issues of the day, like gay marriage.

But you haven't read much about that in the Deseret News, have you? Don't blame the news staff.

I've been fascinated by fractures in the LDS community since I moved to Utah in 2004, but I can see why the leaders are not. Many religious Americans seem comfortable to be lead spiritually by thoroughly undemocratic organizations. Like the Catholic Church that I grew up in, the entire LDS community and organization--the elders and sisters, the bishops, and stake presidents--allow a cabal of almost-entirely-white and thoroughly old men (with old values and out-of-touch realities) to lead the church--possibly to ruin. For more on the undemocratic rise to the top of the LDS Church's top brass, read D. Michael Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy books.

In a democratic system, a free press is of paramount importance to the proper functioning of the system, but in other systems, pretending that dissidents and divisions don't exist is pretty much par for the course, whether we're talking Iran or Temple Square. While I think the DNews committed some censorship of its news staff for political reasons (Loftin, who knows more than I do, agrees), I'm starting to think that a motivation of equal importance was squelching dissent and not allowing young Mormons to see their fellow Saints standing up for what they believe in--even if it defies the LDS Church--or each other. 

Think I'm an idiot for only realizing this yesterday? Tell me in comments!

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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