BCC has been critical of Public Affairs recently. It is fair to say that emotions have sometimes run regrettably high at times but that is only because the Newsroom wields great public power in Mormonism and some of us feel frustrated when it (in our view) does so clumsily. The following is a genuine attempt to understand the place of the usually excellent Newsroom in LDS life. Answers to the following questions would be very useful.
1. What is the functional difference between a statement signed by the Brethren (e.g. a First Presidency letter) and a Newsroom release, which, we are told, seems to have the de facto approval of the same?
2. When Michael Otterson says that, “[o]ur task is to find language that most accurately reflects what’s in the Brethren’s minds,” are we to know which of the Brethren’s minds is being reflected? The BSA release suggested that not all church leaders were at headquarters at the time of the decision. What is the minimum level of input that Public Affairs needs to prepare a release? Is the member of the Twelve who is the permanent member of the Public Affairs Committee sufficient for approval?
3. When Mormon bloggers criticize the Newsroom it has often been because a professional cadre of PR professionals are seen as fair game for criticism (even though we should still find ourselves under the obligations we always have to other brothers and sisters in the gospel). Public Affairs would seem to wish to neuter that criticism by claiming that Public Affairs always speaks for the Brethren. If the Newsroom therefore has what in the study of religion might be deemed a kind of “magisterial authority,” why not have the Brethren sign the important releases? Would that not give them more heft, especially when they end up being criticized from both right and left?
4. Public Affairs will be aware that the most common interpretation of D&C 1:38 is that when the Brethren speak it is as if the Lord has spoken. Are we to understand that Public Affairs now stands in that chain? Does this make the Newsroom in some way revelatory? Public Affairs will be aware of the “President Newsroom” jibe: would it be helpful if one of the apostles were to clearly explain its role and authority?
5. The Newsroom has been active in promoting a more nuanced view of the priesthood ban, as Brother Otterson’s discussion of the Gospel Topics essays shows. The essay on “Race and the Priesthood” tells us that, “[o]ver time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.” Had the Public Affairs department of the church given voice to these mistaken theories via a news release at the time, what responsibility would members have had in relation to it? Would it have been reasonable to criticize such a release?
6. One of the complaints levelled against the church that Public Affairs is often required to rebut is the idea that Mormons are mindless automatons who walk in lock-step with Salt Lake. Brother Otterson notes (with some relish, it would seem) that there are faithful members of the church who belong to the communist party, despite President Benson et al’s views on communism. In 2009, he was interviewed by Steve Evans here at BCC and said that new media “allows people to come to better know Latter-day Saints.” Is it not good PR for people to know that there are active Mormons out there who are prepared, if necessary, to occasionally raise their objections about things which directly affect their lives? I sense a dislike from Brother Otterson for some corners of the Mormon blogosphere; BCC has always believed that the last thing the church needs from Mormons in public is unbridled sycophancy. Are we wrong?
7. Michael Otterson is from Liverpool. Is he Blue or Red?