Reader Advocate: 'Big Love' photo draws big criticism

This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I talked to many faithful LDS Church members this week after a story about "Big Love," HBO's polygamy drama, appeared in The Tribune alongside a photo of one of the characters wearing temple clothing known only to devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Trust me, Pandora's box is ajar and the bad feelings are in the ether.

This comment from a reader politely sums up the storm of comment:

"I am a member of the LDS Church and a daily subscriber to the Salt Lake Tribune . I was very disturbed that the Salt Lake Tribune would publish the image of a woman wearing full LDS Temple robes along with an article about the show 'Big Love.'

"It is the picture that has particularly upset me. Although at times I value the voice I get from the Tribune on various topics, I am discussing the value of our subscription with my wife and will likely be canceling our subscription over this article.

"You have gone too far. You have crossed the line by showing something so sacred to so many of your constituents."

By Friday afternoon, 1,111 readers had commented on the online version of the story at

Although a tightly cropped version of the photo appeared in the print edition, the larger shot was pulled from the Web site and the photo archives as soon as Tribune Editor Nancy Conway saw it. She believes the photo added nothing to the story by Vince Horiuchi about the controversy surrounding the episode that airs Sunday evening. That episode reportedly will depict a rite that members consider sacred and private.

Church leaders responded to the news of the ceremony on the official LDS website:

"Before the first season of the HBO series 'Big Love' aired more than two years ago, the show's creators and HBO executives assured the church that the series wouldn't be about Mormons. However, Internet references to 'Big Love' indicate that more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous. And according to TV Guide , it now seems the show's writers are to depict what they understand to be sacred temple ceremonies.

"Certainly church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding. Last week some church members began e-mail chains calling for cancellations of subscriptions to AOL, which, like HBO, is owned by Time Warner. Certainly such a boycott by hundreds of thousands of computer-savvy Latter-day Saints could have an economic impact on the company. Individual Latter-day Saints have the right to take such actions if they choose.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series. As Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Robert D. Hales of the Council of the Twelve Apostles have both said recently, when expressing themselves in the public arena, Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness."

Rather well said. I cannot add to that.

But I can assure Mormons that The Tribune did not intend to offend members of the LDS Church. We should have more carefully considered what using the photos would mean to Latter-day Saints.

The Reader Advocate's phone number is 801-257-8782. Write to the Reader Advocate, The Salt Lake Tribune, P.O. Box 867, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. E-mail:

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151 » people objected to 'Big Love' photo.

54 » people complained about type size in Sports stats.

11 » people pleased with Legislature coverage.

6 » people unhappy with weather page colors.