The Barbarism Exposed : An Interpretive Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Mormonism, 1887-1888
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah
'In the second half of the 19th century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons) was a major topic of debate in America. Political, religious, social, and media leaders of the era condemned the church for many reasons, but perhaps most vehemently for the abominable enterprise of plural marriage. The 1870s and 1880s witnessed a systematic effort to eliminate polygamy and to reduce Mormon political power in the Utah Territory. The press played a major role in this effort. In a time before objectivity became institutionalized for reporters and their media employers, newspapers were key players in the public, political, and social discussion of the evils of Mormonism. This study examines journalistic standards operating in late 19th-century America newspapers and attitudes toward the Mormons by focusing on press accounts of Mormonism during 1887 and 1888. Textual analysis of a database of 581 newspaper articles was conducted in two parts: (1) labeling and counting key content topics found in the articles and (2) determining each article's tone and form. The research finds that highly personal writing, dramatic elements, events, and stories dominated the coverage. Important LDS-related issues of the time, such as polygamy, theocracy, and Utah statehood, were written about in language that was often virulent and harsh. The dissertation concludes with a summary of findings and a discussion of the Mormons' status as the Other in American culture. The substantial media coverage of the 19th-century Mormon issue has rarely been studied from a journalism history perspective and not in much depth from a Mormon history perspective. This dissertation offers those perspectives through a systematic analysis of journalistic standards, practices, and techniques operating in the late 19th-century American press and adds to our understanding of the Mormons' position in that era.'