Mormon Media Symposium: ‘The cause of spreading truth’

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By Mike Carpenter

At the Mormon Media Studies Symposium in the Brigham Young University Conference Center on Thurdsay, BYU professor Ed Adams discussed how anti-Mormon sentiments in the early 19th century may have made necessary the formation of church-run newspapers, like the Deseret News.

Adams used the words of famous author Alexis de Tocqueville, who had traveled to places where Joseph Smith lived, when he read from “Democracy in America” to illustrate how the partisan press created subjective newspapers during the time when the church emerged.

“The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices,” Adams said, quoting de Tocqueville. “Nothing can be more deplorable than this abuse of the powers of thought.”

“Partisan papers were characterized as reflecting the sentiment of a group or a faction,” Adams said. “The press aligned itself with political parties and partisanship and philosophical viewpoints, and particularly the evangelical press.”

Adams said because political parties wanted to push groups with non-idealistic norms away from the electorate, anti-sentiment during the partisan press era was typically hostile toward anyone not white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant.

“With the Saints being in a minority population and the political press trying to cater to a majority…there is not a guarantee that anybody is going to speak for the church,” Adams said.

Currently at 51 pages of research with around a dozen articles on Mormonism per page, Adams has found that mentions of the church in the partisan press era were mostly negative, with a few sympathies toward the church during the time when Mormons were ordered to leave Missouri.

Adams concluded that the lack of a positive voice for the church in the press caused the creation of church-run newspapers.

“Because of the [press] alignments, there wasn’t going to be an independent voice for the church and there was a necessity requiring the church…to start their own newspapers,” Adams said.

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