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A Victory for Mormons?

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Utah’s daily newspaper war between the Kearns-McCarthey family and the owners and officers of the Deseret News has not gone unnoticed in New York City, where a banner headline atop the Wall Street Journal’s Aug. 1 “Marketplace” section proclaimed: “In Victory for Mormons, Control of Salt Lake Tribune Shifts.”

That pretty much cuts through the last 20 months of minutia-filled news accounts of voluminous legal filings. Of course, officers of the Deseret News denied all along that they were working behind the scenes to gain control of the morning paper. In fact, on July 23, Deseret News Editor John Hughes, in an interview with Doug Fabrizio on KUER’s Radio West program, again stated flatly that the Deseret News did not attempt to buy the Tribune. Unfortunately for Hughes, documents obtained by this newspaper and recently unsealed outlined their plan to do exactly that. Perhaps Mr. Hughes is just a little confused. Certainly, he wouldn’t knowingly lie about a thing like that, would he?

In the Journal’s review article, Peter Waldman cites documents unsealed by federal Judge Ted Stewart following a lawsuit by City Weekly, Tribune Editor James E. Shelledy and KTVX arguing that letters, memoranda and other documents between Deseret News officers and LDS church officials surrounding the Tribune sale be made public. “But as with so many matters in Utah, the power behind the putsch—some five years in the making—was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Waldman wrote. “Working secretly to avoid a public backlash, the Mormon church wielded its clout to vanquish a publishing company that church leaders have long regarded as hostile to Mormons. …

“So when TCI bought the Tribune from the Kearns-McCartheys, Deseret News executives, at the urging of the Mormon prophet and President Gordon B. Hinckley, pounced on the opportunity for change.” That’s about as close to the top of the church as you can get. Funny though, President Hinckley didn’t mention the shenanigans when he was on Larry King Live.

n When the LDS church’s plans to buy the morning paper went south as TCI merged with AT&T, Deseret News officials began negotiating with Dean Singleton and MediaNews Group Inc. to keep the McCartheys from regaining ownership even though they held an option to buy back the paper. AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong discussed the sale of the Tribune with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Mike Leavitt. Waldman quotes Leo Hindery, then-chairman of AT&T’s broadband unit, as saying that a sale to the LDS church or MediaNews Group would be “‘A great outcome that would accomplish several things, including the goodwill we will have preserved with the Mormon church and the political leadership of Utah,’ where, he noted, AT&T had substantial wireline and wireless activities.”

There’s an old saying about fighting City Hall. In Utah, some say, you should exchange the words “City Hall” with the words “Mormon church.”

• The McCarthey family says it will fight on through the courts to win back ownership of the Tribune. But in the end, they may have to use services of people like Jeff Swanson of DeWitt, Iowa. The Associated Press reports that the 39-year-old is offering to let advertisers tattoo his head for $100,000. Well, as the old adage goes: Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, or who are willing to have their shaved scalps printed.

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