Setting the Record Straight, Yet Again



Why I Write


My attention has been called to an article that appeared in the Student Review back sometime in December.  Entitled “Happy Valley: Best and Worst of 2012,” it included the following item at Number Five:


Best New Direction/Worst Petty Man-Drama

In June, a long, drawn-out and dramatic battle of words ended with BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship firing Daniel Peterson, prominent LDS apologist, as editor of the Mormon Studies Review. Peterson had written a personal attack against John Dehlin, founder and host of the sometimes-controversial Mormon Stories podcast, for publication in the journal. The 100-page article (100? Seriously?) was brought to the attention of a friend of Dehlin’s, who also happened to be a General Authority, there were many long e-mails, the word ad hominem was used a lot, the article was pulled, and Peterson was fired. The change represents a new direction for the journal, which aims to assimilate more into the academic world of religious studies. The new editorial team is still being assembled, and the Mormon Studies Review is on hold until further notice.

Though this event was not “viral” in the more typical sense of the word, though it sent the Bloggernacle into frenzy. The mainstream media merely poked its head in for five seconds, dodged a glass being thrown against the wall, got bored and confused and walked out.


Stephen Smoot, the author of the article to which Item Five, above, provided a link (under “dramatic battle”), responded with a comment on 29 December, as follows:


I enjoyed the article, but have to comment on number 5, which has been highly garbled. What I write here are the facts of the matter as I have in my possession, which comes from reading both the emails in question and speaking with those involved. I am sure that as more details are released, things will be clarified.

1. Daniel C. Peterson did not write the article. Gregory Smith did.

2. The article was not a “personal attack” on John Dehlin. That’s what Dehlin, who hasn’t even read the article, nor the author of this piece, I would wager, tried to spin it as when he heard a critique of his online material was coming out from the Maxwell Institute. His intention, it seems to me, was basically to get it censored before it could be published, instead of doing the professional, honorable, and academic thing and responding to it after it was published. (One wonders precisely why Dehlin is so afraid of someone scrutinizing his podcasts and online material.)

3. After being tipped off by someone inside the Institute (whose identity has elsewhere been revealed, but for discretionary reasons I will not repost here) of this alleged “hit piece”, Dehlin complained to a Seventy, and went along with his informant’s characterization of it as a “hit piece” without so much as first reading it for himself. In the e-mail to the Seventy, Dehlin threatened to take the matter higher up to an Apostle if he didn’t get his way. Dehlin succeeded in censoring it before the article could see the light of day.

4. The directive to scrub the article came not from an Apostle or a Seventy, but from an emeritus GA who is in the current BYU administration.

5. Peterson was sacked, but not solely because of the article. The article was the catalyst, you might say, that led Bradford to finally fire Peterson and take over the Institute in a coup, but there’s much more to the story than Dehlin and his supporters keep saying. Internal politics in the Institute came to a head with the article, but it wasn’t the cause of the firing itself, it was the excuse.

The whole affair, I have been told, is going to be published by those involved. At the end of the day, I am convinced that Dehlin is not going to come out of this looking good. Having been privy to some of the inside details to all of this, including having read the article in question and a detailed history of what went down, I can say that Dehlin has good reason to worry about the very carefully crafted public image he has made for himself over the years.


I myself have now just replied, with the following:


I’m grateful to Stephen Smoot for setting the record straight regarding Item 5, above.

As he says, I didn’t write the article. But, unlike John Dehlin and (it seems) anybody at the “Student Review,” I’ve read it, and I disagree with any characterization of it as a “personal attack.”

As for the role played in the matter by an unnamed member of the Seventy: He hadn’t read the article, either. And it’s not precisely clear what he may have said. By the time it got to me, however, after the Seventy had spoken with a BYU administrator who then spoke with the director of the Maxwell Institute who then spoke with me, it had become a directive that the “Mormon Studies Review” not publish the piece, which none of them had seen. I instantly complied. I withdrew the article from the forthcoming issue and substituted another.

My dismissal from the editorship of the “Mormon Studies Review” followed a week or two later, and came by email while I was out of the country. But — just to be clear — at that point I also resigned (I wasn’t fired) as director of “advancement” (fundraising) for the Maxwell Institute, because my dismissal as editor had expressly been described as part of a realignment of the Maxwell Institute that I felt I could not support (for, among others, ethical reasons).


I probably should have pointed out at least three other things:  (1) There was no “long, drawn out . . . battle of words”; these events happened very quickly and, from my perspective, quite unexpectedly and out of the blue.  (2) I know of no evidence to suggest that the General Authority in question was or is a friend of John Dehlin’s.  (3) I continue my work as a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, which has always been my actual academic position and my chief professional focus.  (Some out there may not understand this.)



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  • kap

    So when do we get to read the article in question?

    • danpeterson


  • h_nu

    And when do we get to the know the identity of the emeritus GA and unnamed 70. So many questions.

    • danpeterson

      I know the name of the emeritus General Authority, and, anyway, it’s easily deduced.

      I don’t know the name of the other General Authority. Not for certain, anyway.

    • ryan

      It’s obviously President Samuelson.

  • Stephen Smoot

    You see, Dan, I’ve got your back. Even if I am a liberal shill. :-)

    Having written for the Student Review for over a year now, I think the main problem is that because it is all written and directed by students, your mileage may vary with the quality of the articles. It offers some great opportunities for aspiring student writers to get a feel for the field of journalism, but we’re fully aware of the fact that, in the end, we are student run.

    My experience with the SR is that is that flops like this one are few. Still, flops like this one above are unfortunate.

    • danpeterson

      There are, amazingly, people who are so good that their goodness survives their political liberalism.

      Mine, alas, couldn’t even make it through my political conservatism.

  • http://right Grantley

    So, is the plural of Seventy “Seventies?” Because that makes me think of disco.

    • danpeterson

      It was a dismal decade, pop-musically speaking.

  • SJ Bobkins

    “The change represents a new direction for the journal, which aims to assimilate more into the academic world of religious studies.”
    A new direction? Just what were they doing that prevented assimilating the academic world?
    “Dehlin complained to a Seventy and threatened he would take it to an Apostle if he didn’t get satisfaction”
    La-De-Dah, who does this guy think he is and why would a GA need to get involved in such a petty manner? I’m reminded of a Donald Duck cartoon in which Donald filled his home with with large holes trying to kill a fly. He did in fact miss the fly which landed on the end of his rifle barrel while the house crumbled and fell. I see something wonderful destroyed because they thought too independently, were bad mouthed by a jealous competitor , or some other matter unrelated to the letter no one read, and if read it was described as not being a “hit piece”. Well when Dehlin and friends stopped shooting there was nothing left of a fine organization that did much to bring understanding to both members and detractors.