Who was John Smith? Not LDS Church founder

Oops! U.S. News & World Report goofs on name

Published: Saturday, Nov. 8 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

A U.S. News \\& World Report collection of the magazine's religious articles includes a headline on the LDS Church that calls the founder John Smith, instead of Joseph.

Photo Illustration/Jeffery D. Allred

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It's not like the name is a hard one to remember.

The first prophet of the restoration, according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was Joseph Smith.

Easy, eh? It's not like his name was Mortimer Farnsworth or Quinton Harshbarger or Xavier Wybrow or something. Hear it once, you'll probably remember it.

Some copy editor at U.S. News & World Report apparently wasn't paying much attention in class. In a collection of the magazine's religious articles titled "Mysteries of Faith," out this month, the headline to the six-page spread on the LDS Church is headlined thus:

"In John Smith's Steps."

"Somebody took a snooze at the keyboard," said Richard Folkers, spokesman for the magazine. "Yeah, there are all the excuses about having a small staff that's overworked and all that, but the bottom line is we're paid not to have this happen."

The article is a reprint of a cover story on the LDS Church that appeared in the magazine three years ago (that one sported the headline "The Mormon Way" but was otherwise the same article). It discusses the church's growth, adjustment to entering new countries, its appeal to converts, history and fiscal situation.

"It's like other stories on the church — there's some good and some not so good," said church spokesman Michael Otterson. "Overall they tried to be fair."

Fair, yes. Accurate — well. . . . In addition to the headline, the article also includes a picture of the Brigham Young statue at Main and South Temple in Salt Lake City in front of the Salt Lake LDS temple. The caption manages to contain two errors in 13 words:

"A statue of Joseph Smith flanks the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City."

At least they got the city right. Heck, the temple might have suddenly been moved to Denver.

"That's just negligence," said James Ross Gardner, associate editor of Salt Lake Magazine. "They have a lot of time to put that stuff together. . . . I wouldn't say nothing like that ever happens — anything can happen in the proofing room — but I don't think we've ever made mistakes like that."

While it has produced such "bookazines" as this in the past, particularly its well-known ranking of colleges, U.S. News and World Report recently stepped up its production of them. "Mysteries of Faith" is the eighth such effort this year. The magazine has produced other bookazines on history, health, genius and other subjects, collecting articles that have run in the standard weekly editions and collecting them in semi-book form by subject.

"It's just a chance to offer readers something that they perhaps wouldn't otherwise see," Folkers said.

"Mysteries of Faith" includes articles on Judaism, Catholicism (which the magazine calls "Catholism" in the table of contents), Islam, Hinduism and evangelism. It discusses the origins of the Bible and has several articles on the life and death of Jesus. It has an entire section on "The Crescent and the Cross" — the intersection of Islam and Christianity over the centuries. All of them are reprints of recent U.S. News & World Report articles.

"We have for a long time tried to be a magazine that approaches religion as a rich subject to write about," Folkers said. "It impacts life in so many ways and is so important to so many people that we feel it deserves coverage."

Given that religion is so important, though, publications would be well advised to get the facts right — even small errors can bring out the beast in people, and this one was a biggie.

"We're going to get a flood of e-mail on that one," Otterson said.


E-MAIL: aedwards@desnews.com

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