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Hatchet job or good journalism?

The most recent Associated Press coverage of the a gay kiss-in around the United States feels more like a hatchet job than good journalism.Mormons and non-Mormons alike should take a long, hard look at the way a national AP story was written and framed, and ask the question, "Was it fair?" The Mormon Media Observer does this with some hesitation because the writer, Jennifer Dobner, is a friend and former colleague, but I think she'll understand that journalism should be open to constructive criticism and debate. I am not alone in my critique. Mollie Ziegler, a non-LDS writer at Getreligion.com, also pans the piece.She wrote this: "But the 'nationwide 'kiss-in,' according to the story, featured '200 or so' folks in Salt Lake City, a whopping 22 in Washington, D.C., and 'about 50' in Atlanta. Definitely worth a story, but you might be careful how much you oversell it. I mean, I've thrown house parties with more people than that."More than numbers, it is the mostly one-sided angle Dobner chose to follow that is unfair. The overriding theme of the article suggests that the church's image has been tarnished because of its support for gay rights. In fact, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put this headline on the piece: Gay marriage fight, 'kiss-ins' smack Mormon image. Among some groups, the image surely has been tarnished, but Dobner doesn't mind finding any sources who dispute that.Dobner quotes at least eight people — some who are gay, some who support the gay cause or some who are disaffected Mormons because of the LDS Church support of traditional families — and then "balances" the story with one obligatory quote from a church spokeswoman. That's not balance — that's bias. It reads more like an editorial building support for a central thesis. This story was poorly conceived and poorly crafted.In the journalism primer,"The Elements of Journalism," the authors say news should be proportional. First of all, let's examine this statement: "Church insiders say Prop. 8 has bred dissent among members and left families divided. Some members have quit or stopped attending services, while others have appealed to leadership to stay out of the same-sex marriage fight."You would think a rebellion is going on. If you talk to all of the church "insiders" I know, we haven't seen much dissent. Among U.S. Mormons, I bet the "dissent" is less than 1 percent. But Dobner doesn't even attempt to quantify this. This is clearly an exaggeration. It's out of proportion with what most Mormons think, feel and know. Yes, I am a Utah County guy, so don't take my word for it. But if Dobner walked around the BYU campus this week and started questioning the throngs attending Education Week from all over the United States about the issue, she would be hard-pressed to find a lot of supporting evidence for her thesis. Even Doug Fabrizio was able to get a BYU professor and an active Mormon to talk on Salt Lake City's KUER "Radio West" about the aftermath of Proposition 8. Why no such voices in this article?While Dobner must have spent a lot of time tracking down all of the naysayers, I can provide plenty of anecdotes that suggest the opposite. After the Proposition 8 balloting, young missionaries in California reported that many more doors opened to them because of the LDS Church stand on marriage. The stature of the LDS Church has risen among evangelicals. A group of religious freedom advocates, including leading evangelicals, took out an ad in the New York Times when protesters started demonstrating outside LDS temples. Some are speculating the LDS Church stand could bolster a second presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. The LDS Church's stand has strengthened ties between the LDS church and other religious groups. Where are these kind of themes and sources in the story?One of the most galling statements is this excerpt:"'What I hear from my community and from straight progressive individuals is that they now see the church as a force for evil and as an enemy of fairness and equality,' said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kendell grew up Mormon in Utah. 'To have the church's very deep and noble history telescoped down into this very nasty little image is as painful for me as for any faithful Mormon.'"Has Kendell taken a national poll? Have a huge majority of straight progressives ever liked the LDS Church and its stand on anything? How is the current situation any different? Does Kendell have real evidence to support this statement? No way. It's anecdotal evidence and should be thoroughly questioned by a reporter.Dobner bolsters this theme of tarnished image with a quote from Jan Shipps, a professor of religious history and a Mormon expert from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Nice expert, but Shipps is wrong on this one. Dobner writes:"After the Proposition 8 vote, many gay rights advocates turned their anger toward the church in protests and marches outside temples that singled out Mormons as the key culprits in restricting the rights of gay couples."To me a larger question Dobner ought to investigate is why are the gays targeting Mormons and not other groups active in the Proposition 8 campaign? To me, it remains a mystery why Catholics, who invited the Mormons to be involved in the California campaign, aren't actively targeted by gays . My research suggests that gays made a conscious decision to demonize Mormons in the media during the Proposition 8 debate. That's because Mormons have been and remain easy targets of contempt in America. Mormons are the "others." It is also easier more "politically correct" to frame the debate in terms of anti-gay rights than in terms of support for traditional families. Both should be legitimate stands in a democracy, but the media tend to discount one over the other, and Dobner's word choices follow that pattern. Dobner owes Mormons another story looking at a much larger and balanced range of LDS Church "insider" and outsider voices.