Press, News Media, and the Church
Author: Pratte, Paul Alfred
Early press coverage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was shaped by the traditions of the partisan press. Some journalists treated the Latter-day Saints with a degree of fairness, but the more common approach was ridicule and hostility. Outside media took a rather dim view of the Church, and when the LDS media were confrontational, non-Mormon media responded with a hostility that increased as the nineteenth century continued. Joseph Smith's arrest and martyrdom grew partly out of the Nauvoo City Council's suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor, an opposition press. In the latter part of the century, developing technology and urbanization fostered unprecedented big-city newspaper circulation battles and the rise of yellow journalism. Among those vilified were the Latter-day Saints, particularly their practice of plural marriage.
The press's perception of the Church began to change slowly after the practice of polygamy was officially suspended in 1890 and Utah was granted statehood in 1896. Then in the early twentieth century press coverage continued to improve as the Church began to be recognized as an influential American institution, and the public began listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts. Still later, Latter-day Saints in government and business such as George Romney, governor of Michigan; Ezra Taft Benson, secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower cabinet; and J. Willard Marriott, president of the Marriott Corporation, also helped the press view the Church with an air of greater approval and commendation. The creation of the Church's public communications office in 1970 has further helped with media relations throughout the world. Although there are still occasional flare-ups of sensational news about the Church and individual members, the general view of Mormons provided by the mainstream media in the last decades of the twentieth century has been more accurate and better balanced.
Mulder, William, and A. Russell Mortensen, eds. Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers. New York, 1969.
Lythgoe, Dennis Leo. "The Changing Image of Mormonism in Periodical Literature." Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1969.
PAUL ALFRED PRATTE