Summarized by Kent Larsen
'Prophet' Relies More On Faith Than on Fact
Washington Post pg C01 26Nov99 A1
By Richard Leiby: Washington Post Staff Writer
"American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith" premeired on Friday,
November 26th on PBS stations around the U.S., but the Washington Post's
Richard Leiby was not impressed with the documentary, saying that it
left out too much about Joseph Smith, leaving viewers with the
impression of a persecuted man without an understanding of why he was
In the show, Leiby says the viewer learns "much about the persecution of
Smith's sect, but little about its actual teachings. We are told how
deeply Smith loved his wife, Emma, and how pure of heart he was--but
we're not informed that he had, by some accounts, more than 30 wives
while flatly denying he was a polygamist." He also complains that
American Prophet doesn't tell why some followers left the Church and
joined mobs opposing Smith.
He does credit the film for relying on primary records and for using
non-Mormon historians and academics to give objective analysis,
including the observation that Church members at the time were sometimes
clannish and haughty. It also, he says, creates a very appealing vision
of Smith, "Joseph was a very remarkable man," the documentary quotes
Gen. Moses Wilson. "I carried him into my house, a prisoner in chains,
and in less than two hours my wife loved him better than she did me."
Leiby concludes that the documentary is "an edifying two hours, but the
saga of Smith's life could have been far more gripping than this
reverently rendered version."
To make clear what the film could have been, Leiby quotes Joseph Smith
saying in a sermon in Nauvoo, "In all these affidavits, indictments, it
is all of the Devil--all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false
swearers! All Hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your
lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of
than ever any man had." Leiby says this quote speaks volumes about
Joseph Smith, but it is not in "American Prophet."