Deseret News editor Joe Cannon's decision to speak during a conservative program focused on "the importance of marriage" has drawn criticism from some and questions from others, but Cannon insists the engagement does not cross any ethical boundaries.
Cannon will be one of three speakers to take the podium during the Sutherland Institute's "Sacred Ground" program at the Provo Tabernacle on Sept. 24.
"Part of my job in life is to speak about the Deseret News to anyone who will listen," Cannon said Friday. "I will speak to any group that asks me. If the ACLU asks, I'll speak. I spoke to the League of Cities and Towns this afternoon, and we cover them far more extensively and intensely than the Sutherland Institute."
Sutherland President Paul Mero said Cannon was asked to speak at the event after Mero read a series of nine columns Cannon wrote in May and June about "secularism and the importance of faith-based culture."
"I think understanding the whole conflict between faith and secularism through history lays some intellectual groundwork for understanding there really is no common ground," Mero said. "If it's not your values, it's going to be my values. There's no neutral ground in society that way. I think what Joe's series did was point that out."
But the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said Friday it was disappointed in Cannon's decision to "add his voice and his name to a divisive, anti-gay event."
"It's disappointing to see the leadership of the Deseret News continue to erode confidence in the ability of the paper to fairly and inclusively report on our community," Rashad Robinson, the senior director of programs at GLAAD said in a statement. "It is immensely discouraging to see Cannon add his voice and his name to a divisive, anti-gay event aimed at continuing to prevent gay and lesbian Utahns from having the same opportunity as everyone else to earn a living and take care of their loved ones."
Glen Feighery, an assistant professor who teaches media ethics at the University of Utah, said Cannon's involvement in the event could plant seeds of doubt about the newspaper impartiality.
"It comes down to expectations," Feighery said. "It might send confusing messages if he appears at an institute that has a political point of view. Maybe people would wonder if he's there to talk about journalism or is he there to ... rally support for those views."
In 2007, Cannon was criticized — and later apologized for — attending a session of the Council for National Policy when the conservative coalition, which included former Vice President Dick Cheney and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, met in Salt Lake City and closed the session to the media.
Cannon said there are vast differences between his involvement in that 2007 meeting and the Sacred Ground event. "The very first question I asked (Sutherland) was, 'Is this open to media?' They said yes."
According to Sutherland's Web site, the free event is a "private event for people of goodwill who believe the family is the fundamental unit of society." Pre-registration and confirmation is required for attendance and media will be invited, Mero said.
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Joe Cannon columns on "secularism and the importance of faith-based culture:"