Question: Did the Church order Ronald L. Poelman's 1984 conference talk to be re-recorded with a "cough track" in order to hide the fact that changes had been made?

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Question: Did the Church order Ronald L. Poelman's 1984 conference talk to be re-recorded with a "cough track" in order to hide the fact that changes had been made?

Elder Poelman voluntarily edited his talk when he learned that some "fundamentalist" Mormons were using his address as justification for their beliefs

Elder Ronald L. Poelman's 1984 conference talk was edited after delivery and re-recorded with a cough track. Some have claimed that this was an effort to hide the fact that changes had been made. Other have claimed Elder Poelman was ordered to make the changes to his talk. [1]

Elder Poelman voluntarily edited his talk when he learned that some "fundamentalist" Mormons were using his address as justification for their beliefs. The re-recording was intended for distribution to the world-wide Church, and was not an effort to hide the fact that changes had been made.[2]

Elder Poelman was not in any way forced to make changes to his talk

Elder Poelman was not in any way forced to make changes to his talk. In fact, the substance of what he said in 1984 is extremely similar to the things that Elder Uchtdorf said in one of his recent conferences addresses. However, after the conference, members and leaders raised issues about how his talk might be received and used by some who sought reasons to discount the counsel of leaders to justify practices such as polygamy. Because of the questions raised, Elder Poelman was desirous to clarify his remarks so that it could not be used as a license by others to disregard modern revelation or counsel.

Because it is common practice for talks to be edited for publication, it was thought that the "official" record should reflect the clarified intent of the talk

Because it is common practice for talks to be edited for publication, it was thought that the "official" record should reflect the clarified intent of the talk. As such, Elder Poelman himself made modifications to his own remarks for the official record that would be published in the Ensign.

Clearly, producing an "updated" version of a talk that had already been recorded posed some problems

In 1984, producing video records of the conference for home use was relatively new. Clearly, producing an "updated" version of a talk that had already been recorded posed some problems. For one, a recording with no background noise would stand out in contrast to all the other talks with no modifications. In addition, there was likely a desire not to deceive but to give authenticity to the presentation so as to not distract from its actual message.

While perhaps a unwise decision in hindsight, the intent was simply to let the core of the message be the focus, not the distractions of the delivery because of the changes

While perhaps a unwise decision in hindsight, the intent was simply to let the core of the message be the focus, not the distractions of the delivery because of the changes. For these reasons, background noises were allowed to be introduced or were intentionally added. (It is not clear whether the background noise--sometimes termed a "cough track" was intentionally added, or whether those in the tabernacle during the retaping were simply were allowed to behave as they would have during the original presentation, resulting in a low level of ambient noise similar to other talks.)

In the end, the intent and purpose was to make the excellent remarks of Elder Poelman the focus of the video, and to allow him to make changes he himself desired to have made, which were made without any compulsion whatsoever from any other church leader.

Unfortunately, critics have shifted the focus from his beautiful message to a misleading discussion of a "cover up," and attempted even in retrospect to impute meaning to his original talk that he did not intend. If anything, this demonstrates the wisdom of making the clarifications he did, if not the technical means used to circulate the changes.

The most telling comment made by the sources available to FairMormon volunteers was that the late Elder Poelman would be horrified to know people today were using his talk to attack the Church. The intent of his talk, including the changes, were intended to foster faith, not doubt in the Church.

In retrospect, this talk was a beautiful one in its original form, and had it been left as it was originally delivered it would have have never become the focus of criticism for secular and "intellectual" critics, though some "fundamentalist" groups might have embraced and misused its ideas.

Ironically, the changes Elder Poelman introduced promoted the very criticism and fault-finding with the Church that he had hoped to forestall, but one cannot fault a faithful servant for trying to make his offering more effective, or fault those who sought to make the new technological distribution of his talk as congruent with the rest of conference as possible as they prepared the official record for dissemination.

I personally do not consider his talk, the changes, or the potentially misguided efforts to make the video version authentic as anything deceitful. Given that all knew that the original recording existed, with press and others present for the original delivery, it defies reason that there was an attempt at a cover up or deceive. Rather, there was an effort only to allow him to amend his official remarks in both the written and video record, and allow it to be as authentic as all the other recorded talks.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Lavina Fielding Anderson, "The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 1 (1993), 23. https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V26N01_23.pdf; L. Jackson Newell, "An Echo from the Foothills: To Marshal the Forces of Reason," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 no. 1 (1986), 27. https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V19N01_28.pdf
  2. FairMormon editors and volunteers have discussed this matter with reliable witnesses to Elder Poelman's actions and thoughts regarding the unwarranted controversy which accompanied his conference talk.