How do you cover polygamy? | Buzz Blog

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How do you cover polygamy?

Posted By on January 21, 2010, 4:13 PM

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The current issue of National Geographic showcases some stunning photographs of fundamentalist Mormon polygamists down on the Utah/Arizona border and a worthy if somewhat pedestrian retread of a story many journalists have found themselves writing following their first trip to twin burgs Hildale and Colorado City. Anderson was given a guided tour of the FLDS world with the apparent approval of prophet and inmate Warren Jeffs himself.---

Once upon a time following such a national publication's look at polygamy, the anti-polygamy brigade would have swung into action, clamoring to the local if not national press for more balanced coverage. Indeed Andrea Moore-Emmett, late of this parish [British journalism speak for a former writer of this paper] dispatched a few sharply critical paras to the NG, the opening line of which was "Mr Anderson's piece, 'The Polygamists", is reminiscent of those journalists who visited The People's Temple before its murderous demise."

Andrea is something of a lone voice these days. All the rest of the folk who once picketed AG Mark Shurtleff's office have long since moved on, usually complaining of deep frustration over Utah's willingness to work with the polygamous community rather than prosecute them.

But without opposing voices, you end up with stories like Anderson's that bring very little new insight into an admittedly complicated situation and instead result in a kind of official story, an eternal repetition of the same facts and impressions that, despite the journalist's best intentions, leave the always shifting and treacherous reality on the ground undisturbed.

I might be accused of the same thing for my cover story Polygamist vs polygamist. I went down to Colorado City last November to look at claims by those involved with the United Effort Plan Trust, which owns the land and housing in polygamyville, that the FLDS was using the law and non-cooperation to effectively broke the UEP's control. The FLDS' spokesman Willie Jessop wouldn't return my calls, leaving me to tell only one side of the story.

Inevitably because the views of polygamists and their critics are so polarised, hearing only one side does a disservice not only to the reader but also to the truth we set out to report.  


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