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Wherein the media play “Telephone” with the Mormon News

February 1, 2012
Game of Telephone

Telephone: A game best left to 3rd graders

Yesterday I had a post that briefly mentioned the recent Reuters article that has addressed Mormonism’s defection and disaffection situation. I thought the Reuters article was pretty interesting when it first came out, and even the Salt Lake Tribune followup was ok — even though it was a somewhat predictable faithful-friendly salvaging of the phenomenon reported by Reuters.

But now, there is an ABC News article that is covering basically the same ground as the Reuters article, and now, things are getting ugly.Why ugly? Well, I think ABC’s article’s title really sums everything up. What started as Reuters’ modest, yet still somewhat charged, title that Mormonism is “besieged” by the modern age has turned into the stark, cataclysmic seeming, “Number of faithful Mormons rapidly declining.”

My goodness?! Is it a pandemic! How many millions will it strike (dead) before a cure is found?

And hey…remember last time when I said that the Reuters article “includes some fabulously juicy, candid, and most likely off-the-cuff (Alert: sound file) remarks by (soon-to-be emeritus) Quorum of the Seventy and church historian Elder Marlin Jensen“? Allow me to clarify on that “most likely off-the-cuff” remark — that link takes you to a recording (ostensibly) private Q&A session with Elder Jensen that was held at Utah State University. Most of the comments quoted from the Reuters article are found within that recording. Indeed, Reuters makes sure to preface most quotations of Jensen’s remarks with, “according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks” or something that similar notes that Jensen was talking at USU.

Yet, when the ABC News article reports, all of a sudden Elder Jensen is speaking directly to Reuters with these comments.

The plot does thicken. Apparently, Reuters does have lines saying that it contacted Jensen…but to this point, the Reuters article mostly has indirect quotations from its own communications with Jensen, with only one sliver of a direct quotation. Like so:

Jensen, the church’s official historian, would not provide any figures on the rate of defections, but he told Reuters that attrition has accelerated in the last five or 10 years, reflecting greater secularization of society. Many religions have been suffering similarly, he noted, arguing that Mormonism has never been more vibrant.

“I think we are at a time of challenge, but it isn’t apocalyptic,” he said.

Yet, the ABC News article quotes far more than just these points, and it never mentions the USU Q&A session at the foundation of everything.

In this sense, this is basically a game of Telephone. Isn’t it interesting how in ANY game of telephone, the message always gets wildly distorted? All I know is that with a title like “Number of faithful Mormons rapidly declining,” the message that people will forward to their friends (without caveat or disclaimer) will be the more sensational-sounding one.


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  1. Maybe ABC’s overwrought reporting balances out Jensen’s probable attempt to downplay the church’s losses. A game of telephone gets really confusing if you don’t trust the source at the other end of the line!

  2. Dan,

    So is reporting about being extreme because you think your source is extreme in the opposite direction?

  3. Seth R. permalink

    No Andrew, the obvious touchstone of whether ABC “got it right” is whether it plays well will the DAMU.

    Didn’t you get the memo?

    It’s OK for the news to be extreme and unfounded, as long as it confirms the fashionable biases of the folks at MormonThink. That’s the real test of media truth about Mormonism.

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