The evolution of a story

2987873409 8d2082d784It's a good thing I have been following the Proposition 8 battle because if I hadn't, there is no way I would have understood this Los Angeles Times story at all. It's about a protest organized by opponents of the Proposition 8, the initiative that passed Tuesday amending the California Constitution to define marriage as an institution involving one man and one woman. While a non-constitutional ballot initiative saying the same thing passed with an even greater margin 8 years ago, the state supreme court had ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Anyway, this initiative -- already in the works before the June ruling -- passed and there have been various protests around the state.

Protesters gathered today outside the temple of the Mormon Church on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood to protest Tuesday's passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that bans same-sex marriage.

Soon after the rally got under way at 2 p.m., men and woman hoisting signs shouted down about a half-dozen men in suits from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yelling "Shame on you!" and pointing at them. The men in suits and a groundskeeper stood looking at them impassively.

Nowhere does the story explain why the anti-Prop 8 folks targeted the Mormon temple. Now, if you've been following the news, you know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of many religious groups -- including Catholic, Orthodox and evangelicals -- that encouraged its members to support Proposition 8. But anti-Prop 8 forces have really targeted the Mormon support. For instance, they ran this agitprop against the church, which we discussed the other day. So why, again, target the Mormon temple? It seems like it would not have been hard to get a protest organizer to explain the rationale. And, further, why not target a Catholic cathedral or Saddleback Church or, since the black community voted 70 percent in favor of Prop. 8, why not take the protest to some predominantly African-American neighborhood? Certainly a discussion of this is in order, no?

The story has several interviews with protesters making their arguments. Les Perkins is one of them:

He started crying as he talked, explaining that he and Bruce had been together since May and that Bruce had hinted he was going to propose over Christmas. When asked if he thought Bruce might propose anyway, despite passage of the proposition, Perkins said, "What's the point?"

Perkins said he and Bruce met at a hotel in Hawaii, and while they were there, a wedding was going on. "I never thought it could happen, that I could be somebody that could get married," he said.

And yet even though this protest is taking place at a Mormon temple, both reporters for this story failed to speak with any member of the Mormon community about the protest or the larger Proposition 8 issue. Maybe the cutbacks at newspapers are affecting phone calls, now, too?

Anyway, this story does a disservice to the protesters and the target of the protesters. When organizing a protest, the location is a key part of the narrative you're trying to push. Reporters should include the reason why the location was picked. And when the target of a protest, you should have the right to defend yourselves.

Now, as I was about to post this criticism, I went back to the url where I found the original story and found that it was gone. This is what happens in the modern newsroom -- you update a story and keep it at the same url. However, this story is so radically altered, I think it should have had it's own url. There is very little, if anything, that was kept from the original story.

The good news is that the new article is much, much better. It's basically a completely different story with a completely different focus. The story is now about discrimination against the Mormon church:

Members of the Mormon church, who were strongly urged by church leaders to contribute to the Proposition 8 campaign, had an undeniable role in the measure's victory. Opponents of Proposition 8 have accused the church of discriminating against homosexuals, but the backlash against the denomination has also sparked accusations of discrimination.

During the campaign, a website established by Proposition 8 opponents used campaign finance data and other public records to track Mormon political contributions to the Yes-on-8 campaign. Opponents estimated that members of the church had given more than $20 million, but the amount is difficult to confirm since the state does not track the religious affiliation of donors.

Critics of the website noted that the religious affiliations of other political donors are not generally researched.

It even provides a transcript of the anti-Mormon ad that portrays LDS missionaries conducting a ruthless home invasion and gets comment from the Proposition 8 defenders saying the level of Mormon-bashing during the campaign was appalling. The reporters then put the Mormon efforts in the campaign in context of some other groups, such as the Knights of Columbus and several evangelical groups. The reporters note that Mormons have faced the brunt of criticism but gets comment from Rick Jacobs who put out the anti-Mormon ad:

Leaders of the No-on-8 campaign said they did not believe they were engaged in Mormon-bashing. "This is not about religion," said Jacobs. "This is about a church that put itself in the middle of politics."

We even get a comment from the LDS church:

Church officials made few public statements during the campaign. On Thursday, they issued a statement asking for "a spirit of mutual respect and civility."

"The Church acknowledges that such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life -- family and marriage -- stirs fervent and deep feelings," church spokeswoman Kim Farah wrote in an e-mail. "No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information." She did not elaborate.

There is a ton more information. We hear from former Mormons who were involved in the protest and the further plans of the anti-Prop 8 forces. Continuing to go after Mormons is a major part of the plan, apparently. The article ends with a comment from a Mormon church member. The first article may have been a train wreck but this follow-up does a great job of looking at some of the larger religion issues that come with the Prop 8 fallout.

Photo via Pnoeric's photo stream at Flickr.

Please respect our Commenting Policy