The evolution of a story

2987873409 8d2082d784It’s a good thing I have been following the Proposition 8 battle because if I hadn’t, there is no way I would have understood this Los Angeles Times story at all. It’s about a protest organized by opponents of the Proposition 8, the initiative that passed Tuesday amending the California Constitution to define marriage as an institution involving one man and one woman. While a non-constitutional ballot initiative saying the same thing passed with an even greater margin 8 years ago, the state supreme court had ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Anyway, this initiative — already in the works before the June ruling — passed and there have been various protests around the state.

Protesters gathered today outside the temple of the Mormon Church on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood to protest Tuesday’s passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that bans same-sex marriage.

Soon after the rally got under way at 2 p.m., men and woman hoisting signs shouted down about a half-dozen men in suits from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yelling “Shame on you!” and pointing at them. The men in suits and a groundskeeper stood looking at them impassively.

Nowhere does the story explain why the anti-Prop 8 folks targeted the Mormon temple. Now, if you’ve been following the news, you know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of many religious groups — including Catholic, Orthodox and evangelicals — that encouraged its members to support Proposition 8. But anti-Prop 8 forces have really targeted the Mormon support. For instance, they ran this agitprop against the church, which we discussed the other day. So why, again, target the Mormon temple? It seems like it would not have been hard to get a protest organizer to explain the rationale. And, further, why not target a Catholic cathedral or Saddleback Church or, since the black community voted 70 percent in favor of Prop. 8, why not take the protest to some predominantly African-American neighborhood? Certainly a discussion of this is in order, no?

The story has several interviews with protesters making their arguments. Les Perkins is one of them:

He started crying as he talked, explaining that he and Bruce had been together since May and that Bruce had hinted he was going to propose over Christmas. When asked if he thought Bruce might propose anyway, despite passage of the proposition, Perkins said, “What’s the point?”

Perkins said he and Bruce met at a hotel in Hawaii, and while they were there, a wedding was going on. “I never thought it could happen, that I could be somebody that could get married,” he said.

And yet even though this protest is taking place at a Mormon temple, both reporters for this story failed to speak with any member of the Mormon community about the protest or the larger Proposition 8 issue. Maybe the cutbacks at newspapers are affecting phone calls, now, too?

Anyway, this story does a disservice to the protesters and the target of the protesters. When organizing a protest, the location is a key part of the narrative you’re trying to push. Reporters should include the reason why the location was picked. And when the target of a protest, you should have the right to defend yourselves.

Now, as I was about to post this criticism, I went back to the url where I found the original story and found that it was gone. This is what happens in the modern newsroom — you update a story and keep it at the same url. However, this story is so radically altered, I think it should have had it’s own url. There is very little, if anything, that was kept from the original story.

The good news is that the new article is much, much better. It’s basically a completely different story with a completely different focus. The story is now about discrimination against the Mormon church:

Members of the Mormon church, who were strongly urged by church leaders to contribute to the Proposition 8 campaign, had an undeniable role in the measure’s victory. Opponents of Proposition 8 have accused the church of discriminating against homosexuals, but the backlash against the denomination has also sparked accusations of discrimination.

During the campaign, a website established by Proposition 8 opponents used campaign finance data and other public records to track Mormon political contributions to the Yes-on-8 campaign. Opponents estimated that members of the church had given more than $20 million, but the amount is difficult to confirm since the state does not track the religious affiliation of donors.

Critics of the website noted that the religious affiliations of other political donors are not generally researched.

It even provides a transcript of the anti-Mormon ad that portrays LDS missionaries conducting a ruthless home invasion and gets comment from the Proposition 8 defenders saying the level of Mormon-bashing during the campaign was appalling. The reporters then put the Mormon efforts in the campaign in context of some other groups, such as the Knights of Columbus and several evangelical groups. The reporters note that Mormons have faced the brunt of criticism but gets comment from Rick Jacobs who put out the anti-Mormon ad:

Leaders of the No-on-8 campaign said they did not believe they were engaged in Mormon-bashing. “This is not about religion,” said Jacobs. “This is about a church that put itself in the middle of politics.”

We even get a comment from the LDS church:

Church officials made few public statements during the campaign. On Thursday, they issued a statement asking for “a spirit of mutual respect and civility.”

“The Church acknowledges that such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life — family and marriage — stirs fervent and deep feelings,” church spokeswoman Kim Farah wrote in an e-mail. “No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.” She did not elaborate.

There is a ton more information. We hear from former Mormons who were involved in the protest and the further plans of the anti-Prop 8 forces. Continuing to go after Mormons is a major part of the plan, apparently. The article ends with a comment from a Mormon church member. The first article may have been a train wreck but this follow-up does a great job of looking at some of the larger religion issues that come with the Prop 8 fallout.

Photo via Pnoeric’s photo stream at Flickr.

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  • Mollie

    This is not the forum to discuss your dislike of the Mormon Church. We discuss mainstream media coverage of religious news issues. All comments should be focused on media coverage, not religion.

  • Dale

    I agree that the more fully developed story was very well written and balanced. Kudos to the LA Times.

  • Mollie

    This is not the forum to defend the LDS either. Discuss mainstream media coverage of religious news.

    I’ve had to delete one comment for inappropriately going after Mormons and one for staying off topic in defense of Mormons.

    Stay on topic. Discuss the media coverage. Thanks.

  • Dan Berger

    One topic that might be covered is the fact that deadly persecution is almost as recent a part of Mormon collective memory as it is of Jewish or Black memory. After all, their founder was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois.

  • Steve

    The coverage focused first on the immense financial backing of the campaign by Mormons. Since this was focused on first, the Mormon church has become the prime enemy of the gay/lesbian movement.

    Then later, the coverage finally showed that blacks (70%, especially black women at 75%) and latinos (52%) were the difference in passing the initiative. I imagine that there could not have been more than 250,000 Mormons that voted, not nearly enough to cover the difference.

    In recent coverage, one political commentator opined that having Obama on the ballot brought blacks out to the polls, which basically passed the initiative. However, I doubt we will see blacks targeted with the same coverage and hostility that Mormons will face.

  • Dale

    Dan wrote:

    One topic that might be covered is the fact that deadly persecution is almost as recent a part of Mormon collective memory as it is of Jewish or Black memory.

    As would be the deadly persecution of gays like Matthew Shepherd. Fortunately, those kind of attacks against Mormons have been rare since the 19th century, whereas physical violence against homosexuals continues to be a social problem.

    Let’s hope that the individuals directly involved in this conflict keep in mind that the distance from angry words to physical violence is not always far, and how their choice of words is received. Media coverage can aid that by reporting the impressions of both sides, including their fears, without editorial skewing to favor one perspective over the other.

  • Mollie

    The media did report on the violence of anti-Prop 8 protesters and it was included in the first draft of this report, incidentally.

  • Jerry

    I think the first version of the story was in my local paper today. This points out an advantage of the Web: stories can be fixed. That should be noted since often it’s the other way with too hasty publication.

  • Kevin J Jones

    “As would be the deadly persecution of gays like Matthew Shepherd. ”

    The Washington Post did an article back in 2004 indicating Shepherd’s horrific murder was part of a drug deal gone wrong. Even the murderers’ prosecutor thought claiming it to be a hate crime was too simplistic.

  • Dan

    I agree that balance was added to the story (the original sounded like a real classic). But by being merely balanced is it perhaps missing some of what is really disturbing about what is happening, namely, that a religious minority is being persecuted by what amounts to a mob that has been angered by nothing more than that minority’s participation in the democratic process? There is something ugly about the targeting of the Mormons under the circumstances. I think the article, even as revised, fails to convey that.

  • Chino Blanco

    Richard Peterson, that Pepperdine prof in the first Yes on 8 ad, is Mormon.

    The Wirthlins, a couple seen in subsequent Yes on 8 ads, is Mormon.

    Sonja Eddings Brown, spokeswoman for the Yes on 8 campaign, is Mormon.

    Jeff Flint, co-campaign manager for the Yes on 8 campaign, previously worked on the Orrin Hatch for President campaign in 2000.

    Glen Greener and Gary Lawrence, authors of the scary ‘consequences’ of marriage equality, are mormon.

    By the end, the Evangelicals had been shunted aside and the Mormons had taken over.

    Reality. Deal.

  • Dale

    There is something ugly about the targeting of the Mormons under the circumstances.

    I agree, but I don’t think it’s the job of the reporter to make that judgement for reader. It’s enough to describe the circumstances, with attention to what is said by both sides, and let the readers reach their own conclusions. There will always be a limit to the writer’s perspective, but using an evaluative word like “ugly” unnecessarily intrudes upon the reader.

  • David T.

    The LA Times article was a step in the right direction, but the television and radio media still needs to follow suit. Way too much time is being spent on sound bites from adrenaline-pumped, angry protesters and hardly any from the Mormons. I doubt that’s because they weren’t available for comment– they’ve got a pretty active PR department.

    Also conspicuously absent is any defense from the other organizations involved with Yes on Prop 8. I might have just missed it, but so far I’ve only heard that the Catholic church denounced the missionary commercial.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Are there any stories reporting that homosexuals have been individually and personally targeted for protests or other public opprobrium for opposing Proposition 8? that the 4 justices of the California Supreme court were picketed in their homes for their ruling? It appears that the only people expressing hatred towards people, and portraying their political opponents falsely, with any implied threat of physical violence, are those who opposed Proposition 8. apparently the opponents of Proposition 8 lack confidence that their position is sufficiently supported by rational discourse.

    The reason for targeting Mormons is clearly that there is already a reservoir of anti-Mormon prejudice among many in the general population, so that there is a general license to attack Mormons, for any reason, that does not apply to criticism of Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, or African Americans. It is the same kind of knee-jerk bias that used to allow people to feel they could express criticism of gay people with impunity. Apparently those who claim to be defenders of gay rights are not defenders of human rights in general; irrational prejudice is fine with them, depending on who is the target. Free speech is meaningless if people are threatened and punished for exercising free speech.

  • Dave2

    Raymond Takashi Swenson wrote:

    Apparently those who claim to be defenders of gay rights are not defenders of human rights in general; irrational prejudice is fine with them, depending on who is the target. Free speech is meaningless if people are threatened and punished for exercising free speech.

    To be fair, Raymond, few people think there’s a human right not to be criticized or condemned. (Threats of physical violence, of course, are a horse of a different color)

  • Rathje

    Just listened to an NPR radio story on the protestors. About two quotes from ex-Mormons who oppose the LDS stance and one from, I believe, a Hispanic lady unaffiliated with the LDS Church.

    Oh joy. Mormons are going to be defined in the national media by the interview equivalent of the embittered ex-spouse.

    This is going to be ugly.

    To be fair though, they did catch the black and Hispanic vote angle. So I guess you gotta at least give them that.

  • Bits

    This is the best article I have seen about the attacks on blacks.,0,3669070.story

    Aside from this I have seen no analysis or introspection on how a poorly run No campaign that relied on denials and finger wagging assisted the passing of Prop 8. Blaming the Mormons is just another way to avoid that reality. A portent of what was coming became clear when the Prop 8 victory was not called even when the opposition could not catch up regardless of how many votes were uncounted.

  • Dave2

    Bits, if abolitionists fail to persuade their fellow citizens that slavery is fundamentally unjust, does the shame fall primarily on the unpersuasive abolitionists or on those citizens who fail to recognize the injustice of slavery? Surely deep moral blindness is more objectionable than poor political skills.

  • Bits

    Dave, if you haven’t caught on yet it is the trivialization of black history that is ticking off blacks. And if your CA abolitionists ran a poor political campaign and lost the most important battle of their life there should be shame for newspapers who fail to analzye that campaign just as they analyze every other.

  • Bits

    I doubt we will see it in a newspaper anytime soon but a blog is a good start.

    “What these protesters should be asking is how a small, out-of-state religious denomination blew them out of the water when the media, history, every celebrity living and dead, and the demographic majority was soundly on their side. What these protesters should be asking is what went so wrong with their campaign and message that they could barely corral even their fellow gays into the voting booths.”

  • Dave2


    I haven’t trivialized black history. I’ve merely used an analogy to illustrate a point, a point whose truth can be grasped independently of the analogy: namely, that when a group defending fundamental human rights fails to persuade the rest of the electorate (due to widespread deep moral blindness), the shame falls primarily on those who have allied themselves with injustice. I’m not sure whether you agree on the ‘fundamental human rights’ and ‘deep moral blindness’ parts, when it comes to gay marriage, but I hope you see the truth of the principle itself.

    And I presume you are wrong when you insinuate about black voters that a major factor in their overwhelming opposition to gay marriage is their resentment of those who draw comparisons between gay marriage and slavery. For one thing, it would be foolish to think that drawing such comparisons is tantamount to declaring that gay marriage is as serious a moral issue as slavery (or, contrariwise, that slavery was as minor an issue as gay marriage)—comparisons are not statements of equivalence. But, more importantly, it would be immoral—almost comically immoral—to deny equal treatment to a group because their analogies rub you the wrong way. I doubt black voters are that foolish or petty.

    In any case, I agree that newspapers should look into the question of why the anti-Prop 8 campaign failed (and why the pro-Prop 8 campaign succeeded). But I don’t think it’s at all clear that the anti-Prop 8 campaign was poorly run. As you have pointed out, it has all the hallmarks of a well-run campaign. I would offer instead the prosaic suggestion that no campaign (especially a campaign targeting a somewhat minor injustice to a disliked minority) can be counted on to overcome people’s loyalty to their religious traditions (no matter how obviously unjust those religious traditions may be).

  • Darin W

    Mollie, thanks for your very interesting post. I do feel that it has taken a while for the media coverage to even start talking about the location narrative with the protesting being directed at Mormons. It’s interesting to look back at your last post about the “home invasion” ad to see how even the message here has evolved since just a few weeks ago.

    By the way, I took the picture that you posted here. That’s my sign, with my friend holding it. This was taken *before* the election, when I was protesting in front of the Mormon temple daily to try to make people aware of the massive church influence in this initiative. Since I did not know how the Black community was going to vote at that time, I hope this rules out questions as to why I didn’t choose the backdrop of their churches for my protest (not that I have different feelings now, however).

    The “home invasion” ad you previously discussed, likewise, was put out the day before the election (by an individual gay group, not affiliated with the official campaign). The message as to “why mormons” did not come through very well in the media, however, as the story about Mormon involvement had barely started to percolate.

    I took my sign to the big rally in West Hollywood for the gay community the day after the election. I talked to a number of local reporters and asked if they were going to cover the Mormon angle. One said that I should have the leaders talk about it on stage, and while I had nothing to do with it, the main speaker basically declared war on Mormons for bankrolling the campaign. Even so, I found only one channel that made a mention of the Mormon angle.

    The tide started to turn the next day at the Mormon temple protest, when the gay community took to the streets of west Los Angeles.

    The Mormon church and members have done a remarkably good job of staying on questionably honest messages of puzzlement, that they “are unfairly singled out and were just one part of a large, broad based coalition” and “the church did not donate money” for the campaign. As someone on the opposing side, I found this to be infuriatingly effective as the Mormons were never really pinned down for a direct response to our accusations.

    Regardless, the story of Mormon backing is slowly coming to the surface, with developments such as the California investigation underway. Despite talking among themselves (on message boards and such) with pride about how much money and manpower they provided before the campaign, the Mormons post election continue to circulate “fact sheets” as talking points that try to refute their influence.

    On a side note, the site where Mormon donors are listed, (mentioned in the “home invasion” post), is officially neutral on Prop 8. Before the election, Mormons were pointing to the tally of financial support from it with pride. Not anymore. The FAQ from the site says, “This is an information website. We suppose that whether it is “Pro-8” or “Anti-8” or neutral toward Proposition 8 depends on how the information is used.”

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