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ABC's PrimeTime commits slander, say pro-polygamists

Date: Jul 29, 2005
Word Count: 950 words
Cross-Reference: ABC PrimeTime, John Quinones, Laurene Jessop, Colorado City, Arizona, Utah border

ABC's PrimeTime slanderously misrepresents one woman's heartbreaking suffering, caused by tragic application and abuse, as if representative of all other forms of polygamy anywhere else.

Old Orchard Beach, MAINE, July 29, 2005 -- -- Pro-polygamy supporters say that the July 28, 2005, episode of ABC's PrimeTime slandered all polygamists. In the first segment of a larger program, titled, "Trapped," PrimeTime produced and recorded Laurene Jessop's return-for-confrontation with her 1983-convicted child abusing father in the isolated fundamentalist Mormon town of Colorado City, Arizona, on the Utah border. 
The episode exploited the child abuse story. But it never reported how most normal pro-polygamists actually view that heartbreaking story. 
In Maine, Mark Henkel, national polygamy advocate and founder of the Christian Polygamy organization,, said that PrimeTime's chosen way to present what the show termed, "the culture of polygamy," is slander against all normal pro-polygamists. 
"The hearts of normal pro-polygamists go out to Laurene Jessop," explained Henkel. "The abuse she experienced as a child is tragic. Her particular fundamentalist Mormon religion's leadership 'assigning' her at 19 to marry her sister's husband is tragic. That particular religion's own pre-suppositional view of treating her (and any wives) as subservient property is tragic. Most normal pro-polygamists - especially considering that most polygamists do not live anywhere near that one specific town anyway - quite adamantly oppose what tragically happened to Laurene Jessop. It's heartbreaking. The difficulties she experienced in her custody battle and the ongoing hardships she now endures in being unprepared to live out in the rest of world with the rest of us are also both tragic. Most normal pro-polygamists are as compassionately sorrowful for her as anyone else who is not a part of that one little town of Colorado City, Arizona." 
But polygamy is not the problem, say pro-polygamists. "Not one of those tragedies is about polygamy," said Henkel. "Rather, they are either about one religion's unique specific doctrinal application or about issues of abuse, such as child abuse. To suggest otherwise is as illogical as suggesting that the racist KKK's application of the Bible is somehow definitive of how 'everybody' applies the Bible. It's an obvious illogical assertion." 
Pro-polygamists say that it would only be accurate to pursue those issues of abuse and horrible application, but polygamy itself is completely neutral. Henkel explained, "Polygamy has nothing to do with child abuse any more than monogamy has to do with it. No one 'escapes from polygamy' any more than some horribly battered wife 'escapes from monogamy.' They correctly leave and escape abuse, but they are not 'escaping polygamy' or 'escaping monogamy.' And just as you can find examples of monogamous child abuse, that obviously doesn't make monogamy about child abuse. The same thing is true for consenting-adult polygamy." 
Gary Engels, as reported on the episode, even confirmed that polygamy itself is truly not the problem. He was reported on the show as having been recently assigned as an outside law enforcement officer by the county attorney. Engels, himself, only identified the underage issue as the problem for which he was assigned. 
He began, "I am simply here to investigate criminal activity." Engels then tried to make his complete point in the same breath - but was interrupted - as he was saying, "And when you're legally married, and you're spiritually married to a second wife..." Reporter John Quiñones then interjected with an unprofessional leading-comment interruption, adding "or third or fourth." Engels took the cue and continued from that interruption, saying, "...or third or fourth." After a slight pause to regain his real point by emphasizing his next clause, Engels then continued, "who is under the age of 18, it's against the law." 
Although Quiñones had tried to subtly disguise the main point of the underage issue in Engels' comment by unprofessionally interrupting him, the truth remains. Engels affirmed that polygamy was rightly not the issue or the matter of "criminal activity." According to Engels, he was assigned to Colorado City for the underage issue and real criminal activities, not polygamy. 
But PrimeTime glossed over that fact and instead repeatedly referred to the community as the "polygamous sect." Any clarification, that other pro-polygamy views - such as Christian Polygamy or even non-religious polygamy - are quite different, was never mentioned. Even other fundamentalist Mormon Polygamists do not hold the same pre-suppositions or application as that particular group in Colorado City. But PrimeTime repeatedly used the "polygamy" references as completely unmodified and unclarified. 
Bringing the show's segment to a conclusion, Laurene Jessop was finally brought to speak to her father in a face-to-face confrontation. After hearing her re-telling of many of the tragic child abuses his daughter suffered at his hand over 22 years ago, her father apologized. In a voiceover, John Quiñones then declared, "Laurene says she will forgive him. But she can never forget her lost childhood and all the other damage caused by polygamy." 
Responding to that very last clause, Henkel said, "Our hearts go out to Laurene Jessop and we pray for her healing. But that last comment by ABC's PrimeTime is outright slander." 
Henkel continued, "Factually, none of that horrible damage was caused 'by polygamy.' Her tragic suffering was only caused by one particular fundamentalist Mormon sect's application of their own unique pre-suppositions and by her father's admitted and convicted child abuse. Those are matters of tragic application and abuse. But polygamy as applied by other pro-polygamists such as Christian Polygamists, for example, would never - even, could never - 'cause' the damage she tragically experienced by those specific applications and abuse in Colorado City, Arizona." 
Henkel summarized, "Words cannot sufficiently express how truly and deeply that the hearts of normal pro-polygamists emphatically go out to Laurene Jessop and equally oppose what she tragically suffered. But ABC PrimeTime exploited her heartbreaking tragedy without any clarification, committing slander against all normal pro-polygamists living anywhere else."


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