Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Press and Prophets--A Long History In Utah

The battle between the press an prophets is not at all limited to the European press and the prophet Mohamed. America’s own home grown prophets have been lampooned, as far back as the 1870's. Pat Bagley the editorial cartoonist with The Salt Lake Tribune asks:

What do you get when you mix a prophet, unflattering portrayals of said prophet and a furious debate regarding the responsible exercise of free speech? The birth of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Today’s Tribune is tame by even its own historical standards; however, there was a time when it cut its teeth on the Mormon Prophet Brigham Young. Shortly after colonizing the Salt Lake Valley, Brother Brigham taught the Saints to eschew Babylon, i.e., The United States of America. His focus was to become economically self sufficient, as well as politically self sufficient in order to build their Zion out west.

Others within the flock, felt differently, and wanted to open up economic intercourse with Babylon, creating a win/win situation. One of these pro-business leaders was William Godbe, a Mormon in good standing, until he ran afoul of Brigham Young’s counsel of self-sufficiency. In the late 1860's, just as the Saints were settling into the Salt Lake Valley, Godbe and his followers started up a rival newspaper to the Church’s Deseret News. It started as the Mormon Tribune, but soon became the Salt Lake Tribune, the forerunner of today’s Tribune.

The first editions of the Salt Lake Tribune, were not necessarily anti-Mormon as much as they were pro-business; however, that soon changed once a trio of Kansans ruffians took control of the Tribune in 1873:

Excommunicated in 1871, Godbe and like-minded confederates opened a rival newspaper to the LDS Church's Deseret News. It was called The Mormon Tribune, but was soon renamed The Salt Lake Tribune. Initially, The Tribune wasn't anti-Mormon. It trumpeted the virtues of capitalism and integration into the economic life of the nation. But things soon turned nasty. When three Kansans took control of the paper in 1873, the gloves came off. Delighting in poking the dominant culture with a sharp stick, The Tribune never met a polygamy story it didn't like. But its special venom was reserved for Brigham Young.
Hence began a life long rivalry between the official Church publication of the Deseret News, and the Salt Lake Tribune, which for many years was overtly anti-Mormon in its coverage; however, it did seem to harbor a particular hatred for the Prophet Brigham Young, whom it described as:

"He was illiterate, and he has made frequent boast that he never saw the inside of a schoolhouse. His habit of mind was singularly illogical, and his public addresses the greatest farrago of nonsense that ever was put in print. He prided himself on being a great financier, and yet all of his commercial speculations have been conspicuous failures. He was blarophant and pretended to be in daily intercourse with the Almighty, and yet he was groveling in his ideas and the system of religion he formulated was well nigh Satanic.”

These descriptions of Brigham Young, make the recent cartoon caricatures of Mohamed seem mild by comparison. The Mormon response, in comparison to the lunacy of some Islamic fundamentalists, was also rather mild:

This being America, The Tribune was free to print material insulting to a revered prophet (it was also apparently free to make up words like "blarophant"). The days when Mormons would spill type into the street for such an offense were apparently over.

For years Mormon umbrage at a free-but-irresponsible press was limited to sermons urging members to subscribe to the Deseret News and not that scurrilous anti-Mormon rag. My grandmother remembered hearing such admonishments in her East Millcreek ward. She said it made sneaking a peek at the Trib just that much more of a guilty pleasure.

Even today, there is a distinct flavor and feeling amongst some within the shadows of the everlasting hills between the two Salt Lake daily newspapers. Still, how refreshing the Mormons of yesteryear or even today do not take to the streets burning beehives in effigy for perceived assaults by the press against revered religious figures. Certain folks in Islam should take note.

Update 7:15 a.m. A quick question for Pat. As I recall you prepared for your career by lampooning some pretty funny cartoons at the Daily Universe at The Lord's University, about the same time I attended. So, how on earth did you end up at such a heathen publication as the Salt Lake Tribune? Does your bishop and stake president know about this?

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