Media’s role in debunking mormon myths

The Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife Ann arrive at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

With members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the public more, the media has attempted to uncover truths of what some deem a secretive religion.

Currently, the most notable member of the LDS Church is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Since his first bid for presidential office in 2008, Romney’s religion has been brought into question.  The media has not been shy in its curiosity, with coverage ranging from thousands of news articles to an hour long special titled, “Mormon in America,” on NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams.”

Whether Mormons like it or not, Romney’s campaign has brought major media attention to the religion. Some view Romney’s religion as a hindrance that could potentially cost him the election while others see it as nothing more than a biographical detail. Ricki Oen, a senior from Wapakoneta, Ohio, studying nursing at Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio said, “Everyone is entitled to their own religion. It’s freedom of religion, so it hasn’t changed my opinion at all. I guess he’s a good person and it shouldn’t matter what religion he came from to become that person.”

Overall, there is a sense of curiosity in the media. Some articles may have negative elements, but a majority attempt to educate society on a largely misunderstood religion.

In the NBC special that aired August 23rd, Brian Williams explored many of the common questions people have about the Mormon Church, though not much emphasis was placed on doctrine.  The special’s primary focus was the religion’s members and their lifestyles. Williams sat down Jon Huntsman’s daughter, Abby, an inactive Mormon. However, most of the people featured on the special are practicing members of the Church.

The Mormon Newsroom blog called the production “a sincere attempt to know the faith.”

“I think (the special) portrayed (Mormons) in a negative way,” said Kaitlan Averett, a senior from Sandy studying human development. One of the people they interviewed was actually an inactive Mormon. Those who are inactive aren’t going to know how to correctly answer questions and portray who we really are.”

Major news organizations like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN, have also run stories on Mormons. A basic search on any one of their websites will return hundreds of stories related to Mormonism. Some focus on Romney’s involvement, while others more broadly assess the religion as a whole.

Media interest in Mormonism is not limited to America. Savannah Bassett, a junior from Johannesburg, South Africa studying pre-communications was able to experience first hand foreign media coverage of Mormonism while on tour with the BYU Young Ambassadors in South Africa this past summer.

“I just got back from South Africa where literally we did an entire press tour around the country,” Bassett said. “We met with SABC, which is a radio company in South Africa, and did an interview about our school and Young Ambassadors and the Church and we met with a lot of people.”

The media, both foreign and domestic, is not working alone as many Mormons have become more vocal about their beliefs via the Internet.  Joanna Brooks, author of “The Book of Mormon Girl” and the popular blog “Ask a Mormon Girl” has utilized that platform to answer questions many non-members have asked.  Brooks also appeared on the NBC special, speaking about feminism in the Church.

The popular Mormon Messages, videos that depict Mormons as ordinary people, are shared easily through social networking sites, allowing members of the Church to do their part in dispelling Mormon myths.

Despite the attempts of media and church members alike, prejudices against Mormons still linger in the minds of many Americans. Bassett feels “if we don’t shove our religion in peoples’ faces, but we openly invite people to come learn about it and not be afraid to talk about it,” there is so much good to be done.

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