Mormon Media Observer: Several articles about the church still deserve mention

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Look at his adjectives and terms he uses. (Please read his entire article for a full context. I believe these quotes capture much of the overall tone of his presentation, but please be your own judge.) He writes: “labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy”; “the Salt Lake empire of corporate greed”; “the oligarchs of Salt Lake City betray their religious heritage”; “the deliberate dwindling of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into just one more Protestant sect”; “There are other secrets also, not tellable by the Mormon Church to those it calls ‘Gentiles,’ oddly including Jews”; much of Joseph Smith’s legacy “had to be compromised in the grand bargain by which the moguls of Salt Lake City became plutocrats defining the Republican party. The hierarchy’s vast economic power is founded upon the tithing of the faithful, who yield 10 percent of their income to the church”; and “The patriotism of Mormons for some time now has been legendary: they help stock the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the military.”

I mean. Really?

Doesn’t such writing make this LDS faith appear to be a cabalistic, vaguely militant group, hiding its true, sinister motives from those around them, while its leaders sit taking advantage of their followers for political ends?

A few weeks ago, a Texas-based minister, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, called Mormonism a cult during an introduction he gave for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, thereby condemning Perry's rival, Mitt Romney. This statement seemed to reach wide opprobrium from the nation's press.

Many editorial pages seemed to denounce it as a form of bigotry, and prominent people rose to the defense of the Latter-day Saints.

Not so with the column by Harold Bloom. Few seemed to criticize it.

It's not hard to believe that the American news media often seems to pick the side of the secular world. The treatment of Jeffress as a contrast with the prominent display of Bloom provides evidence of this.

From the standpoint of a secular atheist, the Jeffress/Mormon story is sort of a “two-fer” anyway. These secular writers get to demonstrate the old stereotype that some Southern Baptists are a bunch of bigots while at the same time reminding people that Latter-day Saints are supposedly members of a cult. Bloom’s article fills in the gaps in explaining how it is a cult.

Lastly, there is Bloom's assessment that modern Latter-day Saints strive for education. This is true, but Bloom's assessment of LDS leadership runs counter to the idea that Latter-day Saints are well-educated.

If the church leaders were interested in running some sort of cult, why would they educate their people? Wouldn't it be better to keep the people down and uneducated, so the fables — if that is what they were — about the origin of the church and of the Book of Mormon wouldn't be questioned?

Bloom's argument faces these fundamental ironies, it seems to me, and his work needs some rethinking for this reason and others.

On balance, however, this new generation of LDS coverage remains, in my view, far more favorable than what it was in 2007-08 when Gov. Romney first ran for president. CNN's blog really demonstrates that, regardless of the underlying tone of Harold Bloom.

Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.

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