Some days, posting for GetReligion requires a great deal of work to explain some theological nuance that a reporter failed to understand. Other days, the work is downright easy. As is the case with pointing out the bias and problems in this hacktastic Associated Press piece on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The headline as published in the Washington Examiner gives a taste of the piece:
‘Kiss-ins’ smack back at Mormon church as faith’s image suffers from Calif. gay marriage fight
So the image of the Mormon church has suffered? Really? I would love to know what percentage of Americans think the Mormon church rocks for standing up for traditional marriage versus what percentage think less of them. Heck, I’d love to know what percentage of Americans even know about LDS involvement in Proposition 8 or the violent response it received from some gay rights advocates. But you won’t find any such supporting data in the story which relies on a rather narrow vantage point of gay activism.
One reader who submitted the story put it well — it’s both a puff piece on gay activism and a hit job on the LDS church.
Reporter Jennifer Dobner begins rather dramatically as follows:
The Mormon church’s vigorous, well-heeled support for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California last year, has turned the Utah-based faith into a lightning rod for gay rights activism, including a nationwide “kiss-in” Saturday.
But the “nationwide ‘kiss-in,’ ” according to the story, featured “200 or so” folks in Salt Lake City, a whopping 22 in Washington, D.C., and “about 50″ in Atlanta. Definitely worth a story but you might be careful how much you oversell it. I mean, I’ve thrown house parties with more people than that.
Of the many people featured on the gay rights activism side of the story is Atali Staffler, a Brigham Young University graduate student whose father is gay. She was raised Mormon but is no longer active in the church. Here she explains her view on why the church should not be involved in the public square debates over same-sex marriage:
“I encourage them to promote the values they believe in and to defend their religious principles in advertisements, but civil rights have nothing to do with religious principles,” she said.
Tell that to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!
The somewhat laughable quote is not balanced out by anyone pointing out the various and sundry ways civil rights have to do with religious principles. Instead we get a series of quotes about how awesome it is to kiss. I should note that this is all related, according to the story, to the trespassing arrest of a gay couple who smooched on church property in Salt Lake City. There’s also a brief mention of something happening in El Paso but there are literally no substantiating details provided about that alleged canoodling event. So the kiss-ins are in response to these other events.
But check out this paragraph:
National organizers say Saturday’s broadly held gay rights demonstrations were not aimed specifically at the Mormon church. But observers say the church’s heavy-handed intervention into California politics will linger and has left the faith’s image tarnished.
I am not sure what the term “broadly held” means — although there are many examples of such ambiguous or confusing language in this poorly written and/or edited piece. But check out that second line. Who in tarnation are these “observers” who are saying these things? I mean, that opinionated line is horrific. It needs to be inside a quote. Otherwise it seems that the “observers” who have a particular view about whether or not the church’s intervention was “heavy-handed” or just, you know, regular American engagement in the democratic process are probably just reporter Jennifer Dobner and her friends. Also, that second excerpted sentence is just poorly written. What will linger? And are the people who didn’t like the LDS church getting involved in politics the sort of folks who held a particularly good view of the church prior to Proposition 8?
So who is the “observer” we hear from after that somewhat slanderous statement above?
“What I hear from my community and from straight progressive individuals is that they now see the church as a force for evil and as an enemy of fairness and equality,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kendell grew up Mormon in Utah. “To have the church’s very deep and noble history telescoped down into this very nasty little image is as painful for me as for any faithful Mormon.”
Wait a minute. Stop the presses. The executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights hears from other gay activists that they don’t like the church’s support for traditional marriage? You don’t say. That quote is followed by one from another ex-Mormon who is gay.
And then this:
Church insiders say Prop. 8 has bred dissent among members and left families divided. Some members have quit or stopped attending services, while others have appealed to leadership to stay out of the same-sex marriage fight.
But church spokeswoman Kim Farah said Friday that Mormon support for traditional marriage has nothing to do with public relations.
“It’s too easy for those whose agenda is to change societal standards to claim there are great difficulties inside the Church because of its decision to support traditional marriage,” Kim Farah said. “In reality the Church has received enormous support for its defense of marriage.”
SAY WHAT? Did reporter Jennifer Dobner just claim that she had sources inside the church who happen to agree with her rather obvious bias in this piece? What are their names? Oh, they don’t have names? What are their positions? Oh, no positions? Well, can we at least get a quote so we’re not relying solely on Dobner’s claims? No? Anyone else think that Dobner might have just made that bit up?
And then, again, we have the second paragraph that makes no sense and is poorly written followed by the sole quote from a church spokeswoman.
In case you were wondering whether Dobner was incapable of letting her bias get the best of her, we also get this wording:
The church has actively fought marriage equality legislation across the U.S. since the early 1990s and joined other faiths in asking Congress for a marriage amendment to the Constitution in 2006.
Is the church fighting “same-sex marriage” legislation or “marriage equality”? And if a reporter can’t figure out how to phrase things without gaming the debate, should they be writing on the topic?
The reporter then uses a bunch of scary language to describe the LDS church involvement in Prop. 8 before introducing Linda Stay, a woman who will also be featured in a documentary about LDS involvement in Prop. 8. It says she “finally” quit the church after Prop. 8 but we don’t know what her level of involvement was leading up to the deciding event. We do learn that she has two gay children, one of whom was married in California.
While the filmmaker who features the family says their story is representative of “many” LDS families, we don’t really get any context to understand whether the millions upon millions of other LDS folks feel the same way or are generally pleased with their church’s involvement.
And check out this hit paragraph:
With the gay rights fight far from over, some believe Prop. 8 could continue to frustrate the church’s image for years to come, much like polygamy — the church’s own one-time alternative form of marriage — and a policy on keeping black men out of the priesthood, issues that have lingered years after the practices were abandoned.
“Some” believe? And who provides the supporting quote for this view? It’s the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Kendell, again.
I’m not Mormon but you don’t have to be to see that this article — which is being published far and wide — is an ugly and unfair journalistic hit piece. The agenda of the reporter is obvious and both she and her editors for this piece should take a refresher course in Journalism 101. Or they should go write for the agenda-driven press where a slanted piece such as this belongs.
All comments not focused on journalism will be deleted.
Images of anti-Mormon protests via BeetleBlogger.