The Associated Press Loves Church Critics

Why does the AP have to go to church critics as the go-to guys for commentary on the Church?

Yesterday, Jennifer Dobner of the AP, wrote a story on Church leadership succession which mostly quoted two outspoken Church critics, Grant Palmer and Ed Firmage (“WWII vet, 80, likely next Mormon leader“). This led Ryan at RomneyExperience to say:

Hint: When covering a story within Mormonism, if you find that your three quoted sources are a famously disfellowshipped Mormon (something close to excommunication) a famously lapsed Mormon, and a non-Mormon, consider a re-write.

Perhaps sensing some problems with her sources, Dobner filed another story last night based on the commentary of D. Michael Quinn and Steve Benson (“Mormon succession holds little suspense“).  At least it includes comments from Richard Bushman and Richard Ostling, but it also fails to mention that Benson is an ardent ex-Mormon, not just a “grandson of former church president Ezra Taft Benson.” 

GetReligion rightly questions why church critics are used in this kind of story but missed the first article. 

The Church has put plenty of material on its Newsroom website for reporters to use and I’m sure a spokesperson would be more than happy to offer a statement on behalf of the Church.  Instead the AP has to resort to church critics.  I would suggest that Dobner get a bigger Rolodex.

Another example why Mormons should get more involved in the old and new media. 

12 thoughts on “The Associated Press Loves Church Critics

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  2. Chris H.

    Ed Firmage was nothing but nice about Monson in that article. He is still a great Mormon intellectual, no matter his current standing in the Church.

  3. David H. Sundwall Post author

    Chris –

    He was nice to Pres. Monson. But the point wasn’t so much the content of the articles but her selection of sources.

    As a church scholar Firmage is well-known for his criticism and he has been quite public about leaving the Church.

    When he was my law professor, he took his direct descendancy from Brigham Young and Hugh B. Brown very seriously. He always reminded us of it when he let us know what he thought about the Church in class.

    I don’t think the AP reporter would have gone to him merely as an author of “Zion in the Courts.”

  4. Michael

    I found quoting Firmage extremely odd as well.

    If I were approaching this from a cynical standpoint, I would suggest that the AP reporter could interview Firmage over a couple of beers and put the tab on her AP credit card, while an interview with a church spokesman wouldn’t get any more “adult” than pie at the Lion House. But that would be overly cynical of me.

  5. tiredmormon

    Maybe news media find it difficult to get straight answers out of the church considering the recent Q&A from Fox News. Maybe the newsroom contains incredible spin, and is more political than straightforward. Maybe Grant Palmer can better understand the context because of his lifelong attachment to the church.

    The associated press does not need to parrot whatever goes up on the newsroom. Sadly, the church thinks it can control news media discourse and that is reinforced when the membership cries when non-official sources are used.

  6. David H. Sundwall Post author

    tiredmormon –

    Regardless of your characterization of what the Church would say, wouldn’t a responsible article at least try to go to the Church as a source?

    The AP doesn’t need to “parrot” anyone, Church nor foe. Why then go overwhelmingly to the foes?

    The Church does not try to control the media at all. The first AP stories ran as is in the Deseret News (click on the first link).

    I’m fine with non-offical sources being used, even hostile sources. How about using _one_ official source?

  7. tiredmormon

    I agree, every article should use at least one official source. But the question was why would the AP only used Palmer and Ed…and that was my best guess.

    Btw, what does “to the foes” mean? Are you saying that Palmer is a foe? Writing a pretty straightforward book with honest intentions and then begging not to be ex’d makes you foe?

  8. Phouchg

    A person who may not be a member of the church can still be knowledgable on church-related matters. I would rather have an informed non-member discussing church issues than a faithful members who knows all “milk” and no “meat”. The purpose of news reporting is not to proselyte or advocate a religion, it is to communicate facts objectively.

    This is much ado about nothing.

  9. GeeDee

    The point of a good news article isn’t to just relate pro-vs-con arguments. The point is to give the reader an accurate idea of what is being reported. If you don’t believe they reported accurately, that’s what you should be complaining about.

    If the only thing to complain about is the selection of sources, then this is just pettiness. It almost sounds as if you’re afraid they *might* say something bad about the church, and you want to pre-empt anything bad being said about the church. The news media, ideally, doesn’t work that way.

  10. David H. Sundwall Post author

    GeeDee –

    What’s an “accurate idea of what is reported” except for what the reporter chooses to include? The reporter has a lot of power in shaping how a story is understood by the public.

    Call my arguments whatever you want but I think it’s fair that Dobner’s use of sources was one-sided. Many of these sources had significant behind the scenes baggage with the Church. She decided not disclose that baggage which would have given the reader a better idea of how to take their comments.

    Despite being a little late to this story, you may be interested that the same reporter has done something similar with an article this weekend which is both a puff-piece on the gay-rights activiists as well as a hack job on the Church.

    Gay marriage fight, `kiss-ins’ smack Mormon image

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