Abby Eyre and Faculty Mentor: John Waltz, School of Communications
The French have found Mormons fascinating
since 1860. Jules Verne depicted Mormons
as utopian menaces in his 1863 novel Paris
in the 20th Century1, French cartoonists
illustrated polygamous and mixed-raceMormon couples as satire, and French
outcasts occupied Nauvoo after the great
Mormon exodus west. In the time since the
early days of the American church, little
changed regarding the perception of
Mormons until the internet allowed real-time
flow of information. My own experience as a
missionary and as an intern in France piqued
my interest in how French people viewed
Mormons. I met people who had never heard of Mormons, people who immediately assumed I
was Amish (despite using a smartphone) and people whose only experience with a Mormon was
following Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. This diverse misunderstanding of
Mormons mixed with several professors’ research which I had previously read led me to
question the sources and reasons behind the French view of Mormonism. This study focuses on
the perception of Mormons in France over 15 prominent years in contemporary Mormon history,
In order to study the perception of Mormonism in France, I worked with John Walz in the
department of journalism at BYU. We formulated the plan to study perception of Mormons
through the eye of French media, by chronicling and categorizing articles and publications in
France about Mormons by a quantitative measure of favorability towards the church portrayed in
the article. We contacted Francoise and Dominique Calmels, the directors of public affairs for
the church in France. They organized articles from 2001-2015 and rated each “favorable”
“neutral” and “unfavorable;” I also analyzed these articles on that scale. In addition to providing
articles, the Calmels also provided a valuable interview with surveyed the history of church PR
efforts in France. By analyzing the efforts of the public affairs officials together with the timely
articles and the current events over the time period, we are able to draw several conclusions:h
Figure 2: This graph represents the total number of articles produced (in red) and the
sentiment score of the year. The sentiment score was calculated by analyzing how favorable
the article was towards Mormons. A positive score represents an overall favorable sentiment,
and a negative score indicates an overall disfavorable sentiment towards Mormons. It should
be noted that from 2010-2015, only a sampling the total number of articles released was
analyzed, so only the sentiment score is reported, although total volume of articles continued.
From the data, we can see that Mormons became a prominent news topic in 2007 and 2008. This
is due to two major events: the 2008 presidential campaign and the uncovering of Warren Jeff’s
FLDS polygamous cult. Although the favorability level increased steadily until this point, French
media sensationalized the FLDS cult uncovering and connected the group to the Mormon cult.
In 2012, Mormons again took the spotlight in French media. This was due to the musical The
Book of Mormon as well as Mitt Romney’s second campaign for president. It is interesting to
note that over Mitt Romney’s second campaign, French media was more favorable to Mormons.
1. In the past, French news outlets have tended to sensationalize events in Mormon history and
blur the lines between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other break-off faiths.
2. French news outlets have gradually become more correct, and now usually refer to the Church
as “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and cite correct history.
3. French articles and other news publications about Mormons have increased in volume and
positive sentiment thanks to the efforts of Dominique and Francoise Calmels. The only exception
appears when there have been major news events (Mitt Romney campaign, Texas cult
We can conclude that the change in PR strategy (when the Calmels2 came to the position in
2001) as well as Mormons in world event have led to these outcomes.
1 Verne, Jules, and Richard Howard. Paris in the Twentieth Century. G.K. Hall, 1997.
2Dominique and Françoise Calmels direct all communications for the church. Data was pulled from their work over
2001-2015. Along with this data, they provided a meaningful background in a 152-minute interview.