It was to be expected. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reignited a debate about freedom of religion. Unfortunately, much of the landmark speech's message got derailed by journalist-created sideshows.

Here's coverage of the speech by the numbers:

4,325 words. The approximate number of words in the original speech delivered at BYU-Idaho.

778 words. The number of words the Deseret News either quoted directly or paraphrased from Elder Oaks in its coverage. It was thorough, but did avoid the civil rights analogy that was singled out by other media. Regrettably, the News missed the best chance any media had to put the quote into context. Even KSL mentioned it.

757 words. The number of words the Associated Press either quoted directly or paraphrased from Elder Oaks. Most Americans read about Elder Oaks' talk through the Associated Press version of the story.

The AP seemed focused on supporting its lead paragraph: "The anti-Mormon backlash after California voters overturned gay marriage last fall is similar to the intimidation of Southern blacks during the civil rights movement, a high-ranking Mormon said Tuesday."

The article did give more details of the speech than other media sources and quoted at least two gay activists, including this one:

"Fred Karger, founder of the gay rights group Californians Against Hate, said Oaks' speech is part of a public relations offensive to 'try to turn the tables on what has been a complete disaster for the Mormon church ... They are trying to be the victim here. They're not. They're the perpetrators.'"

180 degrees. The difference between the headlines in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News: "LDS apostle under fire for civil-rights analogy" and "Freedom of religion under increasing attack, LDS leader says."

137 words. The paltry number of words the Salt Lake Tribune either quoted directly or paraphrased from Elder Oaks speech in its article. That's about 3 percent of what Elder Oaks said. So explain why the Tribune can't be charged with taking his words out of context? I guess the Tribune refused to take seriously what Elder Oaks actually said. Did they assume their readers would get it from another source? At least online, readers got a link to the talk's transcript.

285 words. The number of words the Tribune dedicated to orchestrating its so-called "backlash" by taking Elder Oaks' analogy with the civil rights movement out of context and then getting the predictable response. Please don't tell me all of those critical sources just lined up at the Tribune offices Tuesday as Elder Oaks delivered his talk. The Trib helped fan the flames of the "backlash."

10 vulgarities. Monica Bielanko, an executive producer at Salt Lake City-based Fox 13 News, used no less of these on a personal blog, The Girl Who, as she described her animosity toward her former faith, including insults of LDS Church leaders and members. Apparently she was ticked off because she posted a tweet (a posting on Twitter) about the talk before a 3 p.m. embargo deadline set by the church. A church spokeswoman asked her to pull down the innocuous tweet. Not sure that was justification for what followed.

She wrote:

"Today I arrived at work to find that during a speech to BYU students in Idaho, a leader of the Mormon church, an apostle, if I'm to use their terminology, compared the backlash against those who voted for Prop 8 to the African American struggle for civil rights in the south. After I picked my eyeballs up off the floor and shoved 'em back in my head I read the entire story being reported by the Associated Press. Did he really say that? I thought those cagey, old, white dudes hid their true feelings better than that. He did. He said it. And elaborated for ages about why he totally believes it."

Bielanko said she can easily separate her "issues" with the church and her role as a journalist. She said her style of reporting was to analyze what Elder Oaks said rather than just regurgitating what he said.

When should news managers draw the line at what their employees say on their own time, especially if it impacts the perceived credibility of the news station and is commentary on their role as a journalist?

Renai Bodley, Fox 13 news director, says she has a policy of not getting involved in what her staff says or does in their personal time.

Bodley said, "I understand how Monica's blog could be seen as offensive. What I want to reassure is the professional, objective way we handle the editing process in the Fox 13 newsroom is gold standard.

"I want to reassure our viewers that we handled this story the same way we do all stories — in a balanced, thoughtful and professional way. And that should be reflected in what they see on air."

2 national commentators. Well, Keith Olberman isn't a journalist and I suspect any ethical code has long been forgotten at MSNBC. Here's what Olberman said after giving Elder Oaks the "worst person in the world" award:

"One would think that with the Mormons' history of having previously been on the wrong side of integration, and the wrong side of that pesky ancient order of one woman per marriage, that these are subjects about which Elder Oaks would want to shut the (expletive deleted) up."

Just in case you forgot, Mormons are expected to forgive even Olberman.

From the conservative National Review:

"As if to corroborate his concern, gay-rights groups made up of disaffected church members issued a statement criticizing the talk and saying that they had no concerns with the church having religious freedom as long as it doesn't use that freedom to speak in opposition to same-sex marriage. In other words: Shut up, they explained. As Maggie Gallagher has consistently noted, the shrilly intolerant nature of much same-sex marriage advocacy is becoming increasingly apparent."

Joel Campbell is a former editor and reporter at the Deseret News and a corporate communications manager. He now teaches college journalism courses and researches issues about journalism ethics and Freedom of Information.


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