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Polygamy in the Media

AP (Associated Press)
  November 24, 2006
     Polygamists Say Jeffs case
     Paints Distorted Picture

AP (Associated Press)

On November 24, 2006, the Associated Press reported about pro-polygamists' response to the ongoing trial process of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. It started with a local Utah perspective of Mormon polygamsts who do not support the things about which Jeffs' sect were accused of doing. Then the report broadened to the national perspective, providing interview quotes from Mark Henkel of the organization.

Examples of news outlets that carried the report include:

As well, because the report referenced that Mr. Henkel was interviewed "from Maine," the reports were also carried in newspapers geographically "closer to home" for him too. Such examples include Even "closer to home" for Mr. Henkel in Maine, the Portland Press Herald published only a print-edition of the report on November 25, 2006, "Local & State," Page B2. Showing the AP photograph of Mr. Henkel's face, the Press Herald titled the report, "Non-Mormon polygamists disavowing Jeffs." Their print-edition of the published report specifically concluded right at the end of Mr. Henkel's sound-bite - without continuing the rest of the fuller report.

Various titles for the report used by the different news sites included:
  • Polygamists say criminal case against Jeffs paints distorted picture
  • Polygamists say Jeffs case distorts their image
  • Polygamists Worry Jeffs Case Harms Image
  • Utah criminal case worries polygamy rights advocate

On top of all that, the report was also posted on supposed-to-be conservative commentary web-sites, such as:

Because Mormon FLDS sect leader Warren Jeffs was from the Utah/Arizona geographic area and because that is where the trial process was appropriately proceeding, the report was primarily written through such a local Utah/Arizona perspective. After doing so, the report then turned to the larger national scale. That's where the report quoted Mr. Henkel. One of the frequent refrains, in Mr. Henkel's numerous interviews with the AP, was how the Jeffs case in Utah did not even involve polygamy. The report accurately addressed that glaring fact. The portion of the report that involved Mr. Henkel and his powerful sound-bite is as follows:

...Attorneys for Jeffs said the case is not about rape, but polygamy, and is the continuation of 165 years of religious persecution. Washington County prosecutors maintain polygamy isn't the issue, because the girl's cousin had no other wives.

Polygamists say that detail gets lost in the frenzy of media reports, as do differences among the FLDS and other polygamist groups.

Polygamy came to Utah in the 1800s when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, settled the Salt Lake valley. The church abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood, although some members refused to accept the change, going underground to continue the practice.

The legacy of that split is an estimated 37,000 self-described "Mormon fundamentalists" who live in Utah and other Western states, according to a survey by Principle Voices, a pro-polygamy advocacy group in Utah. Some are members of organized groups or churches while others remain independent.

Those contacted by The Associated Press say they don't arrange or force marriages, especially for young girls, and don't condone abuse of any kind. And they say women are not prevented from leaving if they choose, nor are children expected to become polygamists as adults.

"But it's hard to tell really what's going on in some of these groups that haven't been targeted. There is so much secrecy," Prunty said, who applauds the case against Jeffs. "I think it's also very easy to look in someone else's backyard and say they are the ones committing the abuse."

Utah isn't the only place where polygamy is being practiced.

Nationwide, a growing number of fundamentalist Christian polygamists claim no early Mormon roots and don't belong to any organized faith, said Mark Henkel of, a polygamy rights organization.

Socially, most polygamists try to keep a low-profile in society. Since the Jeffs arrest in August that instinct to keep "our heads lower," has been heightened, Henkel said.

"I have to protect my family more than ever," he said in a telephone interview from Maine.

Like Utah polygamists, Henkel said polygamists without Mormon roots disavow Jeffs and the crimes he's accused of. Henkel is disturbed that the FBI considered Jeffs such a threat that in May they named him to the agency's Ten Most Wanted fugitives list along with such notorious figures as Osama Bin Laden. The designation implies that polygamy is a Top 10-level crime, he said.

"It's outrageous," he said. "If you took out the word polygamy and put any other - homosexual or Jewish - and tied it to this very, very important list, the (groups) would be screaming political hate speech."

Two quick clarifications are also necessary to make here. One, Mr. Henkel does not refer to Christian Polygamy as "fundamentalist Christian Polygamists" - that incorrect use of "fundamentalist" implies some non-existent association oir similarity with Mormon Polygamists who self-identify as "fundamentalist Mormon Polygamists." Rather, Christian Polygamists are mostly evangelical Christians. Two, while the report was trying to correctly convey that such Christian Polygamists do not have some form of separated denominations or "communities" as do various Mormon Polygamist groups, the report's comment about that appeared to otherwise assert that Christian Polygamists somehow do not belong to organized faiths. What the report actually intended to convey was that individual Christian Polygamists do belong to their own individual evangelical Christian denominations, from Baptist to Pentecostal, and to numerous other denominations - just not their own "polygamy-based" denomination. But with these clarifications of a very minor matter now understood, one can only conclude that the report's portion that involved Mr. Henkel, the organization, and the Christian Polygamy movement was truly well done.

This report was, indeed, a crucially important message to get out to the mass public. The organization is genuinely grateful to both the reporter, Jennifer Dobner, and the AP for reporting this essential information.
Media [Directory]
AP (Associated Press)
September 06, 2006 - Polygamists Glad Warren Jeffs Caught
November 24, 2006 - Polygamists say Jeffs case paints distorted picture
November 21, 2007 - Polygamists Glad Warren Jeffs is going to prison


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