PBS series 'a welcome change,' church says

But most viewers find fault with documentary

Published: Thursday, May 3 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

The LDS Church characterized the two-part PBS documentary "The Mormons" favorably, noting correctly that some church members may have a mixed reaction to its treatment of sensitive church issues.

"At a time when significant media and public attention is being turned to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when news media is so often accused of superficiality in its coverage of religion, this serious treatment of a serious subject is a welcome change," the church wrote in a statement posted at lds.org Wednesday.

"But even four hours and numerous interviews can't cover everything," the statement also reads. "No doubt, some Church members will feel essentials were left out."

The church invited viewer feedback at its Web site about "The Mormons" at lds.org, church spokesman Mark Tuttle said.

The Deseret Morning News also invited readers who watched the four-hour PBS series to offer their feedback. So far, more than 150 have taken time to e-mail the paper with their reaction.

In a nutshell, a majority of the respondents identified themselves as LDS Church members, and most of them had negative reviews. The most common complaints followed the church's observation: too much of the presentation dwelt on polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre, too little on discussion about the church's doctrine and the early persecution the church experienced before moving west.

Bruce Jacobs of Layton wrote: "I believe it's healthy for us to come to terms with difficult issues. I didn't like everything about 'The Mormons,' but it serves a good purpose by fostering dialogue between ourselves and with those of other faiths."

Another writer, Ray Anderson, put it this way: "As I watched the documentary, I found myself thinking 'So that's what my friends and family members of other faiths think I believe! No wonder they find it peculiar!"'

A positive feedback from within church ranks came from a Californian who identified herself as Maryann: "I really enjoyed both segments. I think it took a very well-balanced look at the church. I thought the praise for the church was very well done and highlighted what I love about being a member."

More typical were responses like this: "On the whole, the attempt by the producers of this documentary to be fair and balanced was not accomplished. Choosing a homosexual male who had forsaken family and faith, and an axe-grinding, male-bashing former member as the voice of dissent by 'so called intellectuals' for commentary on core doctrine and beliefs of the LDS Church was very much like having Lenin comment on American democracy. You know where he is going and which way he is going to take you," Jack Peck wrote.

Cody Roskelley, a Texan, compared the documentary to a segment "60 Minutes" did in 1996 when Mike Wallace conducted an extensive interview with church President Gordon B. Hinckley. "The Mike Wallace interview was 1,000 times better than the documentary."

Ken Kuykendall, who hosts LDS Church-friendly mormoncentury.org, was interviewed for the documentary and thought it "turned out fairly well, which surprised me." His concern developed from the impression filmmaker Helen Whitney left him with after their telephone interview.

Kuykendall said he found Whitney "extremely gracious throughout the interview" but her opening question: "When it comes to the Mormon Church, what are your doubts?" to be the most "comically over-the-top leading question that I have ever heard."

"I am a lawyer, and in law you are allowed to ask leading questions only to someone who is an adversary, someone considered a 'hostile witness.' So her question immediately made me very wary, though I doubt that was her intent."

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