This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader in 2004 famously apologized to its readers.
In a lengthy front-page clarification, the newspaper said its shortcoming was one of omission 40 years earlier: Publisher Fred Wachs, despite personally supporting desegregation, had actively downplayed the civil rights movement. The paper advised staffers not to report on civil unrest and buried any stories they did produce deep inside.
"He didn't like the idea of some of these rabble-rousers coming in and causing trouble," his son, Fred Wachs Jr., recalled in the clarification. Like a number of publishers in the South, he saw the demonstrators as bad for business and believed silencing them might make them go away.
They didn't go away, of course, and the Herald-Leader on June 4, 2004, marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by acknowledging it had failed to fulfill its role in a democracy. Through omission, it had failed to give voice to the voiceless, to inform the debate on issues of the day, to provide a first, rough draft of history.
The Salt Lake Tribune hopes never to make the same mistake.
That's why Peggy Fletcher Stack's Monday story reporting LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer's remarks at General Conference condemning same-sex marriage as immoral and asserting that gays can change appeared on The Tribune's front page.
It's why our coverage of the campaign for gay rights from all perspectives is and will continue to be aggressive and thorough. Regardless of where you stand, this is the civil rights movement of our time.
Readers this week have had plenty to say about Stack's story and others that followed. Some of you praised our coverage. Others pummeled it as an attack on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As always, we welcome your input. We work for you, and we listen to what you say. Our goal remains to inform the debate and encourage intelligent, civil discussion, including with us.
Stack, who has covered the LDS Church for The Tribune for nearly 20 years, emphasizes that she did not listen to Packer's talk intending only to extract remarks that would evoke controversy, as some of you alleged. Rather, she recognized his conference speech and those of other general authorities as what they are to LDS faithful: a twice yearly opportunity for leaders to interpret doctrine and offer guidance on issues of the day.
Stack did what good journalists do: She listened carefully and relied on her own expertise and interviewed other experts to provide context and perspective to help readers understand the significance of Packer's remarks. In her story and a follow-up Tuesday, she asked Mormons and the church itself to react. Her assessment of Packer's comments as significant to LDS faithful was apt. His words inflamed passions that go to fundamental beliefs on both sides of the gay-rights debate for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
We hear your comments about our coverage as a reminder of the challenge we face in covering the gay rights movement and the LDS Church.
We know the church and its teachings are sacred to many readers, and that Mormons view their leaders' word as inviolable. We respect this faith and devotion and try to reflect it in our coverage.
But we also know that, as Salt Lake City's independent media voice, we must report on the church as the influential, powerful institution it is, especially here.
When a general authority comments on an issue of importance to Mormons and all Utahns, it's news.
Again, our goal is to inform the debate, to fulfill our role in a democracy. We report the news, along with context and varying perspectives, so you can decide. So you can debate the issues armed with information. So you can act and help shape history as you see fit.
Like everyone, we make mistakes, but we will not make a mistake like that which led to the Herald-Leader's famous apology.
Lisa Carricaburu is an assistant managing editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.