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Leno, others misunderstood BYU-Idaho anti-porn video, president says

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 6:35 p.m. MST

Jay Leno appears during the final taping of NBC's “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," in Burbank, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Leno brings his 22-year career as the show host to an end Thursday in a special one-hour farewell broadcast. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Matt Sayles, Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

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REXBURG, Idaho — Some websites backtracked this week after they realized they had misrepresented a BYU-Idaho video with an anti-pornography message.

Don't expect the same from Jay Leno, who rattled off multiple jokes at BYU-Idaho's expense — both based on the mistaken interpretation — on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the end of his run on "The Tonight Show."

Time.com tried to clear up the misperception that the video was a "war on masturbation" by publishing a lengthy Q&A with BYU-Idaho President Kim Clark on Thursday. The piece includes a long description of LDS doctrine.

“Neither my talk nor the video has anything to do with masturbation," Clark said. "There’s nothing in the video or in my talk about that. We were really focused on addictions, pornography, things that are really damaging spiritually to people.”

The errors began when standup comedian Ed Brayton found the BYU-Idaho video on YouTube and posted a short item at FreeThought Blogs under the headline, "BYU-Idaho warns its students against masturbation in earnest war-themed video."

The problem? The video, produced by students for the university's office of housing, was based on a 6-year-old devotional given by Clark, a former dean of the Harvard School of Business, in which he asked students to be Good Samaritans and accept their Christian responsibility for others by, for one thing, helping roommates struggling with pornography addictions.

But the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others picked up Brayton's angle and published pieces with headlines and raunchy jokes about masturbation and war. Several incorrectly called it an LDS Church video. After the publicity began, some sites mistakenly claimed the university had pulled the video when, in fact, a student involved in the production had made it private on his YouTube channel. The video remained public on the university's YouTube channel and in context on the BYU-Idaho housing website.

None of the sites referred or linked to Clark's original talk, which is available online and was meant to help students prepare for the opening of an LDS temple near campus. The lack of context led to further mistaken assumptions. Clark referred to a "Great War" in his talk, a Bible reference to a war in heaven described in the book of Revelation that Mormons take literally. To illustrate Clark's point that roommates should look out for each other, the video re-created a war scene about soldiers making a decision whether to help a wounded comrade stranded on a battlefield. Clark's voiceover refers to the stranded soldier as "spiritually wounded."

In context, the video's analogy of a battlefield was understood by LDS students to be one in a continuing struggle between good and evil that began before the earth's creation. But the Daily Beast, Bustle and even Time.com in its headline on Thursday mistook Clark's reference to a "Great War" as a reference to a nickname for World War I and labeled the video's nondescript war depiction a World War I re-enactment. Others, like Business Insider Australia, likened the video's scene to a World War II battlefield. Another said it was Vietnam.

At nearly every site, commenters saw the disconnect between the actual content of the video and the headlines, jokes and descriptions.

"This seems to be more about addressing pornography addiction than about masturbation," one reader wrote.

A Religion News blogger picked up on the same thing.

"But this video is about porn addiction, not masturbation, which is not even mentioned. ... So why is the piece going viral as a 'war on masturbation'?"

On Wednesday, BYU-Idaho spokesman Marc Stevens released a statement:

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