Hinckley not shy in spotlight

A media-savvy president
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His aspirations, as an undergraduate at the University of Utah, were not about the church. The young man who would go on to be the 15th president of the LDS Church devoured courses in literature, foreign languages, anthropology and sociology. Armed with a liberal arts background, he eyed a specific career path.

Gordon B. Hinckley, Class of 1932, wanted to become a journalist.

After serving his mission, he planned to attend Columbia University for a graduate degree in journalism. He never did get there, though.

One post-mission meeting at church headquarters led to another, changing his trajectory forever.

Even so, Hinckley managed to make his mark in media. Driven, perhaps, by his early ambitions, he understood the media's potential to increase visibility and shape impressions.

Which is why he agreed, during the first year of his presidency, to several interviews with Mike Wallace for CBS News' "60 Minutes."

"The Mormon church, to a lot of us, was a mystery," Wallace said. "I had been wanting and wanting for years to talk to someone. . . And I kept getting turned down by prior presidents."

So imagine his surprise when Hinckley invited Wallace to Salt Lake City.

"He said come on out. We'll make time, and you can ask me anything about anything," Wallace remembered Hinckley saying. "I was stunned."

Hours before the "60 Minutes" story was to air, Hinckley closed the April 1996 General Conference by explaining why he had seized this chance to address millions.

"I concluded that it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing," he said, as quoted in his biography, Go Forward with Faith. "We have no idea what the outcome will be . . . If it turns out to be favorable, I will be grateful. Otherwise, I pledge I'll never get my foot in that kind of trap again."

Favorable, it was. Church offices were bombarded with letters of praise. More than 40 million viewers tuned in; Hinckley held press conferences across the globe.

He offered an accessibility to the church that the world had not seen.

"I would call him the great communicator," said Bruce Olsen, the church's managing director of public affairs. "He was willing to step out and communicate - openly and honestly."