Saturday, July 18, 2009

With a big grain of salt

The LDS Church put out a statement laying blame for the Main Street Plaza incident on the guys who were trying to walk home. The statement includes new accusations of lascivious behavior. According to the Church, it wasn't just a peck on the cheek and a hug, it was "groping"!

The Church's statement lacks credibility. Here's why:

1) Timing. One side (Jones and Aune) issued a detailed statement less than 24 hours after the incident in question. Jones and Aune put themselves on record well before the media hoopla. In contrast, the Church waited more than a week to construct its version of events. Do I believe a detailed statement issued less than 24 hours after the event by the parties actually present, or do I believe a statement issued by nameless bureaucrats more than a week later?

2) Balance. Jones and Aune admitted fault in their statement. Jones and Aune said that were mistaken on two counts: 1) they thought there was an easement on the property that gives the public free access and 2) they thought that LDS Security did not have the right to physically restrain them or ask them to leave the property. These two mistakes make it much easier to understand why they started a discussion instead of just leaving immediately. It's easy to see, with this information, how the situation escalated. In contrast, the LDS Church's statement was purely an attack on the other side. It contained no apology or admission of fault of any kind. All things being equal, balanced statements that admit fault are more credible than statements that avoid any responsibility. The Church loses this one. (Hat tip to Marvelous Blunder.)

3) Specifics. The Church's statement lacks detail. This makes it less credible than the detailed statement by Jones and Aune, which is full of detail. Where is the written, unedited report written at the time by LDS Security? There has to be an incident report. Why didn't the Church release it?

4) Eyewitnesses. The account by Jones and Aune is the statement of eyewitnesses. The Church's press release does not quote eye witnesses. The testimony of eyewitnesses is more credible.

5) Motive to lie. Jones and Aune had very little motivation to lie. Something had happened to them, and they reported it. (Remember, their statement was issued before the PR storm that came later.) The Church's statement was entirely motivated by public relations. It was issued by a professional PR department. The Church's statement was communication with a goal, that goal being to repair the image of the Church. When two parties disagree, it's useful to consider which would have a motivation to bend the truth. Here, it's clearly the Church that has such a motive.

6) Tone. The Church's press release describes the location of the incident as "Church Plaza, which is an extension of the Salt Lake City temple grounds and Church headquarters." Everybody else seems to say "Main Street Plaza". This choice of wording reflects the Church's desire to obliterate all memory of the 150-year history of traditional use of that sidewalk as a public thoroughfare. The tone of the Church's statement is kind of creepy. It reads as if the Church wants to be seen as the victim. It's a familiar style from the Prop 8 press releases.

7) Corroboration. Jones's and Aune's statement is consistent with details in the police report. The Church's accusations of public indecency are not supported by the police report.

It grieves me to see this kind of public slander go unchallenged. I would really like to see the original, unedited incident report by Church security. (However, if it follows the tradition of missionary reports and home teaching statistics, even that would have to be taken with a grain of salt.)


[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

A further reason why I doubt the church's account is that the security guards who themselves detained the two gay men mention none of the alleged behaviour to the police. If they were engaged in passionate kissing and groping, I'm quite certain it would have been mentioned.

The church is losing more and more credibility with each passing day/month/year.

Grant Haws said...

When I read their "official" statement the first words that ran through my head was "Liars". For all the points you discussed, and the way they've handled other bad PR issues, I don't believe a word that descends from the great and spacious building in Salt Lake anymore.

What I find most interesting is the timing....similar to the Prop 8 backlash. The church waited to see the reaction and then issued the statement - which tells me that the statement was whatever PR thought would work, not the truth. And the statements always are laden with heavy victimization tones.

If the church has admitted to over-reacting to the couple, but still gave some of the garbage about treating all pedestrians equally it, would have still seemed better than the straight-up nonsense in their statement.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Craig,

I agree with you 100% on this. Also, if I were going to engage in in-your-face groping as a stunt, I certainly wouldn't pick 10PM when the plaza is completely empty. That makes no sense at all. Also, why would the guys grope at all-- they were just minutes away from their apartment.

Also, Church security is supposedly run by highly professional ex-CIA staff. These folks are also highly trained in disinformation and lying. (Not a value judgment; it's what the CIA does.) Why would we expect them to suddenly have a personality transplant when they go to work for the Church?

Hi Grant,

I would like to see the Church reiterate its commitment to allowing full public access to Main Street Plaza. The latest press release pulled back from that position. It wouldn't even use the name "Main Street Plaza," much less admit that it is a traditional public thoroughfare.

I agree with you that the general tone of this latest press release is very whiny. I find the Church's behavior in this affair to be very, very corrupt. They are not showing any integrity at all.