CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne
Mitt Romney's Mormonism was the most frequent mention of the LDS Church in the Italian press during the past 18 months, but the fact that Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon was much bigger news than either the forthcoming LDS temple in Rome or the HBO drama "Big Love."
That's according to researcher Massimo Introvigne, who analyzed 2,156 Italian news accounts that mention Mormonism.
"Twilight remains in Italy a much bigger deal than either the Fundamentalists or the Rome temple," said Introvigne, who will report his research at this week's international meeting of CESNUR, the Center for the Study of New Religions. "The 413 stories mentioning that Meyer is a Mormon are a small percentage of several thousand stories on Meyer and Twilight, but a significant portion of all the stories in Italy mentioning Mormonism."
The book and its Mormon connection was "the best thing that happened to the LDS Church in decades, perhaps together with the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics," he writes. Nearly three-fourth of the stories that mentioned Meyer is a Mormon "had a positive view of the LDS Church as an island of safety where family values were still taken seriously, as represented by Meyer's novels."
Then, on April 22 it was reported that the LDS chain Deseret Book was pulling the Twilight series off the shelf. That news generated 343 stores in one month.
"Many of these do not mention that Meyer is a Mormon, and present the move as just another instance of bigotry by conservative American religion against popular books or music," Introvigne says. "It was a PR disaster for the LDS Church. Despite the limited time in the survey since it happened, it has generated no positive comments at all, and a record 98.54 percent of negative stories about the church."
Despite the fact that the LDS Church has not practiced polygamy for 100 years, few people in Central and Southern Europe seem to know that, even journalists, Introvigne said. Nor do they understand the difference between Mormons and Fundamentalists, who broke off from the LDS Church at the beginning of the 20th century.
"I analyzed 1,000 Italian articles on Romney and found that 473 articles (or 47.3%) mentioned that Romney's religion has something to do with polygamy," Introvigne said, "although 115 (11.5% of the total, and 24.3% of those discussing polygamy in connection with Romney) did some homework and explained that Romney's church is not actually polygamist."
Stories about the proposed Rome temple, announced by LDS President Thomas S. Monson on October 6, 2008, were handled by religion reporters and generated the highest number of fact-based, neutral stories, Introvigne writes. Despite a sustained effort by LDS Church officials in Italy, however, the announcement "generated twice as many negative stories as positive."