Mistakes in the News: Associated Press Errors More Than Semantics

Mistakes in the News: Associated Press Errors More Than Semantics

Commentary

In an article dated 25 September 2008, entitled “Shirtless LDS missionary calendar back for 2009,” Jennifer Dobner of the Associated Press failed to provide readers with a clear and entirely accurate story.

In her lead sentence, Dobner writes, “A dozen Mormon missionaries are again taking off their trademark white shirts for a calendar that seeks to strip away stereotypes about their church.” To be accurate, the article should have referred to the models as former Mormon missionaries none of whom are serving as missionaries now nor were they at the time they were photographed.

This error embodies much more than simple semantics. For those familiar with the Church’s missionary program, the act of full-time missionaries posing shirtless for a calendar may seem preposterous. However, readers likely hold varying levels of familiarity with the Church’s missionary program. A reader could conclude that a missionary might pose shirtless for a calendar today, only to knock on the reader’s door tomorrow to share a gospel message.

The article later states that Chad Hardy, the calendar’s creator, was excommunicated by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for producing this year's calendar. However, Dobner was not present at the time of Hardy’s excommunication, nor did she participate in deliberations leading to this action and consequently can’t definitively draw such conclusions. Indeed, an article by the Associated Press published 14 July 2008 by the Deseret News reads, “regional church leaders who called the meeting raised three concerns with Hardy during the meeting: the calendar and his failure to keep some church covenants. Hardy has been inactive in the LDS Church for the past six years. He no longer pays tithing or wears the religious undergarments considered sacred."

Unfortunately, these inaccuracies were amplified after several media outlets disseminated the story to an international audience. In the interest of maintaining the factual integrity of the public record, the Associated Press should strive to correct these errors and take steps to avoid their further dissemination.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.