I've had a fairly strict policy for a number of years now: Never allow myself to be interviewed by a journalist. Ever.
Seriously, those people can't get anything right.
Besides, journalists interviewing other journalists seems just a bit too, well, incestuous.
Still, when I got an email a week or so ago from Ray Rinaldi, a feature writer at the Denver Post, I simply couldn't resist. Seems that Mr. Rinaldi was working on a story about the image of Mormons in the media -- you know, how we Mormons figure into popular culture these days -- and he'd happened across a column I wrote last June that called 2011 "The Year of the Mormon." In that piece, my hypothesis was that between Jimmer Fredette, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman Jr. and the Tony Award-winning "Book of Mormon" Broadway musical, Mormons had finally arrived in the Promised Land of mainstream cultural acceptance.
And apparently, that little theory pretty much made me a media expert on the subject of Momos in pop culture.
Wrote Rinaldi, in an email to me, "I don't really need you to be funny" -- he's obviously well-acquainted with that which appears in this space weekly -- "just, you know, wise and observant and semi-detatched ..."
Well, now you're talking. Because Wise and Observant and Semi-detatched just happens to be my middle name. Especially when it comes to all things Mormonistic.
In a nutshell, Rinaldi wondered, "What's up with the fascination with Mormons?"
In his email, he wrote: "I've noticed Mormons come off a little crazy in 'Book of Mormon.' "
Now, now. Put down the pitchforks and torches, fellow Latter-day Saints. Before you decide to go off and storm the Denver Post -- again -- I'm pretty sure he was referring to the characters in the Broadway musical, not those in the actual book of scripture. (Although, let's be honest, a few folks in Alma come off as a tad more "peculiar" than the rest.)
Understandably, we Mormons are a bit sensitive when it comes to comments made by the Denver Post. After all, we have a fairly rocky history with that newspaper. Indeed, next Sunday marks exactly 10 years to the day that Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige pretty much urinated all over our 2002 Winter Olympics Roots berets with a scathing column headlined "Colorado real winner of Games."
In that column, Paige made fun of a religion and culture that, in his words, would "ask you to worship a salamander and a seagull, marry three of your mother's cousins, consider you inferior if you're not white, a man or heterosexual, ... require you to square dance and wear weird underwear under your parkas and ski pants." He also claimed local volunteers "have been trained to say 'Uh, I don't know' and speak in tongues."
And finally, he offered this gem: "And the Church of the Latter-day Whatevers? It claimed there would be no overt involvement or interference in the Winter Games. Instead, this is a massive Mormon marketing scheme. There is no separation of church and Olympics. Young women, who act like they're straight out of the 'Stepford Wives,' stand 10 feet apart downtown and at venues and thrust Mormon literature at passersby. Tables offering Mormon information and men offering Mormon salvation are all over the city."
(IRONY ALERT! The "massive Mormon marketing scheme" Paige referred to was actually a massive anti-Mormon marketing scheme. The literature being passed out was courtesy of loving Christian groups who saw the Olympics as the perfect opportunity to let everyone know that their hosts were going straight to hell.)
Paige wrote a mostly heartfelt apology two days later -- on Valentine's Day, no less -- pleading his case that he was just trying to be funny but admitting that he clearly crossed the line. (Been there, done that, people.)
But while most Utahns may have long since forgiven, forgetting is another matter. So, partly in an attempt to heal that rift, I agreed to answer the Post's questions about how Mormons are portrayed in the media. (Short answer? Much better than 10 years ago, thank you very much.)
If you're interested, Rinaldi's piece on Mormons can be viewed at www.denverpost.com, under the clever headline, "See you Latter: Sorting out pop culture's weird take on Mormons."
And while you're there, just for the fun of it, type "Paige" and "Mormons" into the Post's search function.
Turns out, while Woody has mentioned Mormons in passing a couple times in the last decade, he really does seem to have learned his lesson.
And for that, we the members of the Church of the Latter-day Whatevers thank him.
Mark Saal is available for media interviews on any number of controversial subjects -- including fluoridation, cold fusion and why the mere mention of the words "Ron Paul" right here will actually drive up comments on our website. Contact him (Saal, not Paul) at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.