Last week, one video dominated my Facebook news feed. Chances are it dominated yours as well.
It was Anderson Cooper grilling Pastor Robert Jeffress on Cooper’s news show, “Anderson Cooper 360.”
I won’t go into all the details here — if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen or heard about it. But, in a nutshell, Cooper questioned the validity of Jeffress’ claims that Mormonism is a cult, and generally made Jeffress appear foolish. Or maybe Jeffress made himself look foolish. But that’s a chicken-or-the-egg scenario that I won’t discuss here.
My interest isn’t so much in Cooper’s defense of Mormonism. I’m a lot more interested in the way we Latter-day Saints reacted to it. Namely, that we all went gaga over it.
“Yeah! Get him, Anderson!” was a common reaction, at least on my Facebook feed. That, and “Hey, the news media finally understands us. Cool!”
I felt a bit of those same reactions myself when I first heard the news. But it was just that. A bit.
I didn’t feel compelled to post the video. Not at all.
Maybe it’s my indifference to the sensational nature of presidential campaign coverage, but more likely it’s because, as a journalist, I’m aware of the common sense quality journalists live and die by. And there are a lot more of those journalists out there than most people realize.
So I wasn’t really surprised by Cooper’s reaction. But I am surprised my LDS friends were.
I noticed an almost identical reaction seven months ago, when BYU basketball player Brandon Davies was suspended for an Honor Code violation.
Some sports journalists rose to BYU’s defense, most notably ESPN’s Chris Broussard and Skip Bayless. Many of my LDS friends shared a video of Broussard and Bayless approving BYU’s decision — just like they shared the Anderson Cooper/Robert Jeffress video — in a self-validating, self-back-patting kind of way.
They understood us. They defended us, and it felt good.
My question is, did it feel too good?
Latter-day Saints have always been misunderstood by the public at large, and by the media. On his show, Cooper clearly understood some aspects of our beliefs, and conveyed them accurately and respectfully. In this instance, our beliefs appeared way more logical than Jeffress’ claims.
My problem is this: there will surely be times in the near future when Latter-day Saint beliefs or practices won’t match up with logic-driven journalistic thinking. When “common sense” won’t be on our side. And that’s fine.
More and more, the mainstream media appears to be understanding and accepting Latter-Day Saints as normal members of society. This is wonderful, but we shouldn’t assume this upward trajectory won’t have dips — maybe even plummeting dips — from time to time.
While many aspects of the Latter-day sainthood appeal to logic, it is not a logic-based theology or way of life. It’s a faith-based one, and that faith will probably be questioned somewhere down the road, when one LDS practice or another leaves the media scratching its logical head.
For now, we’re accepted. I’m worried, though, about my LDS friends’ reaction to the Cooper/Jeffress episode. Many of them seemed to assume the media is now on our side for good.
That’s a dangerous assumption to make.
Let’s enjoy being understood. Let’s appreciate being defended. But, by all means, let’s not crave it.
Court Mann is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Daily Universe. This viewpoint represents his opinion and not necessarily that of The Daily Universe, BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.