Change in First Presidency attracts media

The passing of President Ezra Taft Benson and the ordination and setting apart of President Howard W. Hunter precipitated an avalanche of media coverage throughout the world during the past weeks.

The Public Affairs Department of the Church reported an unprecedented amount of media attention for the death of a Church president. Typical headlines across the world included: "Local Mormons Mourn Benson," "Mormon Leader, 94, Dies," and "Followers Pay Tribute to Benson."In addition to coverage in every part of the United States, news overseas included a 45-minute interview with a stake president in Australia, interviews with Church spokesmen for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and a prominent newspaper story from as far away as Papua New Guinea.

According to Public Affairs Managing Director Bruce L. Olsen, the extensive coverage was probably due partly to President Benson's prominent life in public office, and partly to the growing size and perceived importance of the Church by the media. A prompt public expression of condolences from President Clinton underscored the point.

Within minutes of the passing of President Benson on Memorial Day afternoon, May 30, staff from the Public Affairs Department were at work, coordinating news releases and responding to a flood of media calls.

The Public Affairs Department had earlier provided biographical material, photographs, audio and videotapes to major local, regional, national and international media, and to its worldwide network of Church-service public affairs directors. Much of this material was later incorporated into reports from wire services operating from Salt Lake City or other parts of the United States.

In addition, satellite transmission material, provided in advance, aired immediately on CNN and dozens of other stations locally and throughout the nation. Aside from local coverage, national news reports moved on AP, UPI and Reuters wire services; ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox television networks; and ABC, CBS, NPR and BBC radio networks. An audio news release was immediately distributed to 1,800 radio stations. Audio was also provided to CBS Radio's "The World of Religion." Representing the Council of the Twelve, Elder M. Russell Ballard was interviewed on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" show. Elder Richard G. Scott gave an interview in Spanish for CNN's Latin American audiences.

During the week following President Benson's death, the department dealt with numerous local, regional and national newspapers, wire services and magazines, including Time, U.S. News & World Report, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times and USA Today.

Simultaneously, Church-service directors of public affairs, coordinated by area public affairs offices, worked with local media throughout the world to arrange for interviews with local stake presidents or other Church spokesmen.

Dozens of such interviews took place throughout the United States. Internationally, many media organizations opted to use the local Church as its prime source of news, allowing opportunities for clarification or correction of wire service reports. In Tahiti, for example, television and radio immediately carried a Church news release in full, and Tahitian and French-language newspapers included one front-page report. In the Europe Mediterranean Area, almost every national newspaper in France - and several in Italy, Spain and Portugal - carried a news release sent by the Area Public Affairs Office in Thoiry, near Geneva, Switzerland. In El Salvador, local television worked closely with public affairs representatives, who provided footage, video and interviews.

At week's end, the VISN television network interrupted normally scheduled programming to broadcast throughout the United States the funeral services of President Benson on the Faith and Values channel.

The coverage continued beyond the next Monday Morning (June 6), when President Hunter appeared before the media in the Church Administration Building, together with his counselors and the 11 members of the Council of the Twelve. President Hunter's remarks, accepting the "high and holy calling" of President of the Church, were widely reported. Media attention included newspaper editorials commenting favorably on the new Church president.

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