Yesterday The Salt Lake Tribune reported that it would be cutting its staff in order to make ends meet. Obviously, the news was jolting to many reporters. Social media posts proclaimed the expected and appreciated sympathy from Utah readers who understand that the Tribune’s continued existence and independence are essential to Utah’s livelihood.
A friend wrote me a note that said she felt bad for the layoffs, admitted to being a nonpaying reader, and explained that she couldn’t possibly spend money to promote an anti-Mormon and anti-Republican agenda.
Oooooo-Kkkkkk. I tried not to take her statement personally, but it felt like she was saying “I like what you guys do, but I’d never be seen with you.” It was like telling a Jewish person that she worked for an anti-Semitic company. It was like calling the Huntsman legacy anti-Mormon.
I’m a Mormon. And I’m a Republican. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have an anti-anything agenda.
In actuality, The Tribune is anti-corruption, anti-hypocrisy and anti-poverty.
Aren’t we all?
Lest any anti-Tribbers think this is their unique purview, it’s helpful to consider Leonard J. Arrington, historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, from 1972 to 1982. Arrington is known as the “Father of Mormon History.”
His tenure leading the church’s history department sparked internal dissension about just how thorough a history the church wanted to tell.
“The church suffers from the boomerang effect of criticism,” Arrington wrote in his journal on July 17, 1972, which Tribune reporter Bob Mims excellently reported on. “It [the church] will not allow criticism within the church, so it is abnormally sensitive to criticism that comes from without the church.”
It feels like Utahns are still “abnormally sensitive to criticism that comes from without the church.”
In another journal entry Arrington wrote that some leaders “want[ed] glorious stories of the Restoration [of the gospel], unsullied by discussion of practical problems and controversial evidence. They want prophets without warts, revelation direct from high in pure vessels.”
Acclaimed church scholar Richard L. Bushman faced much of the same criticism with his 2005 publication of “Rough Stone Rolling,” a historical account of Joseph Smith’s life, treasure-digging and all. Ten years later, the church itself quoted Bushman’s book in essays that helped explain controversial and inconsistent church practices.
Arrington was a man before his time. But the point is, his view — providing the whole truth and not just part of the truth — eventually won out.
Anything else accomplishes nothing. We cannot be afraid of our history. We cannot shield our church or its leaders from scrutiny. And we cannot be afraid of criticism.
Does The Tribune sometimes question the church and its policies? Yes. Why don’t you? Wasn’t the Mormon church started with a question? Have we lost that righteous curiosity?
Perhaps anti-Tribbers who believe the paper is anti-Mormon should re-evaluate their position and ask themselves why they believe scrutiny equates to condemnation.
About the Republican Party. Like it or not, Utah is a one-party state. It only makes sense that its most widely read paper focuses on the party in power. If Democrats were in power, there’d be more articles about their mistakes and misjudgments. Lucky for us, they’re not.
Consider the feature stories the Tribune has covered over just the past year. Unreported sexual assault and harassment at state universities, including church-owned Brigham Young University. The #MeToo movement. Homelessness. Public lands issues. Gun violence. Education funding. And more recently, cops in distress and their need for mental health support.
Yes, the paper took a more-liberal editorial position on Bears Ears and gun violence. It also supported the conservative tax reforms and Republican John Curtis over Democrat Kathie Allen.
In other words, the Tribune is not focused on partisan arguments or anti-Mormon rhetoric. It’s focused on good policy, public safety, consistency and fairness.
On a personal note, I have worked for The Tribune for a little over a year. Most people are surprised to know that I work full time and that I work in the office most days.
Never have I felt any anti-Mormon animosity, at least none that I didn’t bring up myself in a jocular, laugh-at-myself sort of way.
Similarly, rarely have I felt anti-Republican animosity. OK, maybe that’s a stretch. I do sit near wise, experienced men who are proud of their liberal leanings, as I am proud of who I am. But we make up the opinion section. Our jobs aren’t to be neutral — the paper hired us to take positions. And in my time here we’ve taken both conservative and liberal positions. Both.
The reporters on staff are honest, hard-working journalists who take their charge to be neutral seriously. Yes, there are some who do that better than others. I can think of two in particular who wouldn’t be able to see a good thing about a Republican if she were their mother. OK, maybe three.
But most of them are excellent journalists reporting on a unique religious dynamic in a one-party state.
They just got news that they may be jobless in a few days and what are they doing the day after? They’re working. They’re writing. They’re hurrying to finish stories that they believe will be of interest, and make a difference, to Utahns.
I’m a proud employee of The Salt Lake Tribune. And if you want to put a label on us, it should really be pro-Utah.
Michelle Quist is an editorial writer who thinks her column speaks for itself.