It used to be Main Street in Salt Lake City – a road through the heart of downtown. Now it seems a stroll down this stretch of land can result in fines and physical restraint if you appear to be a gay couple who shows any type of innocent affection towards each other.
On July 9, on the Mormon Church-owned Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City, a gay couple of five years was roughed up and detained by Mormon church security for what the couple and most media outlets report to be a mere kiss on the cheek.
According to their own accounts, the couple, Derek Jones, 25, and Matthew Aune, 28, were walking home when they paused for a brief hug and peck. Mormon Church security officers demanded the couple leave for engaging in “inappropriate behavior.” Aune demanded to know why they were being kicked out. After a brief argument, the security officers pushed Jones to the ground and then handcuffed both of the men. The couple was detained while waiting for Salt Lake City police to arrive. The police cited both men with misdemeanor trespassing charges.
This was a highly visible news story, and received coverage in both the state’s major newspapers, major radio stations and all the local television news shows.
What’s striking is that the coverage of the Mormon Church-owned media outlets - KSL (NBC affiliate) and the Deseret News - reported the story differently than the rest of the media outlets.
A look at the headlines about the incident makes the discrepancy very clear:
· The Salt Lake Tribune: “Trespassing case? Gay couple detained after kiss near LDS temple”
· The Associated Press: “Gay couple detained near Mormon plaza after kiss”
· KUTV (CBS affiliate): “LDS Security Detains Affectionate Couple on Plaza”
· Deseret News: “2 Men Cited in Trespassing on LDS Plaza”
What’s more, every news report about the incident makes clear that it was a kiss on the cheek or a peck, except the Deseret News, which is much less clear about what Aune and Jones were actually doing. The Deseret News description of events is also sparse on details about how many security guards out-numbered the couple and the physical force used by officers to detain the couple. Though neither Aune nor Jones required medical attention, both had bruises and scrapes from the force used by the security officers. KSL, the church-owned NBC affiliate’s story is also heavily one-sided.
In response, former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed organized a Sunday “Kiss-In” at the plaza to publicly demonstrate how Aune and Jones were singled out for engaging in behavior that is otherwise accepted at the same location when engaged in by straight couples.
The follow-up reports by The Salt Lake Tribune recounts, “This time, though, they had an audience of more than a hundred,” when talking about the “Kiss-In.” The Associated Press reports, “About 100 people gathered.” The Deseret News reports, “…about 60 people.” The church-owned NBC affiliate, KSL, reports, “Dozens of people.” It is curious how the church-owned newspaper and television station come up with a number approximately half what other media outlets report.
This could all be circumstantial, but as GLAAD has reported on this blog before, the Deseret News has been widely criticized – even by its own reporters - for not giving accurate and fair accounts of LGBT issues.
In May, the Columbia Journalism Review gave the Deseret News a “Dart,” for “dereliction of journalistic duty” in coverage of the Mormon Church’s involvement in Proposition 8 and the National Organization for Mariage.
The Deseret News is owned by the Mormon Church. However, not until recently has the paper’s journalistic integrity began to be questioned. The Deseret News, and any media outlet, fails to retain journalistic integrity when it ceases to fairly and accurately report on LGBT issues, and downplay any potentially negative coverage of the Mormon Church’s treatment of LGBT issues. This week, the one-sided reports related to Aune and Jone’s brief kiss, and the physical force church officials allegedly used in reaction to that affection, is just another example of why the paper continues to lose credibility.