Recently Elder Oaks spoke at the Amasa Lyman Exposition in Salt Lake City and delivered a talk following the text of a talk he gave in 1985 regarding the Mark Hofmann letters, as reported by Mormon Times.
With the emergence of biographies of early church history and documents purporting to be the product of early church leaders, Elder Oaks reaffirmed his suggestions from 1985 when researching LDS history as reported by the media.
1) Scientific Uncertainties - "Most of the news media go to their readers or viewers on a daily or hourly basis, often under great pressure to scoop their competition. As a result, they frequently cannot obtain irrefutable scientific verification of the facts they will report."
While not directly related to science, one need only look at the recent media coverage of the LDS Missionary Calendar and the creator who was disciplined (see here).
2) Lack of Context - "An individual historical fact has meaning only in relation to other events. Outside that context, a single fact is almost certain to convey an erroneous impression. As a result, when the media report historical facts, they may provide information, but they rarely provide illumination."
Mountain Meadows comes to mind when thinking of this. Whenever this is reported on, few media outlets and even "scholarly" writings take into the context of the relationship between Utah and the Federal Government in the 1850's. Brigham Young certainly inflamed the situation with his rhetoric, but by that time I believe that LDS had a reason to be paranoid after being driven from two states and subject to Johnson's army.
3) Bias - This seems pretty obvious. Whether they intend to be or not, media is biased and has a difficult time staying objective. Even if there is no political bias, usually a media outlet will have be willing to sensationalize an item for the purpose of making money and that seems to be to make a bias towards focusing on the weird.
4) Balance - Use your head here. At least try and tell both sides. Bushman is a great example of a faithful historian who tried to look at the perspective of our enemies to see what upset them. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.
5)Truths and Half-truths - "A lie is most effective when it can travel incognito in good company, or when it can be so intermarried with the truth that we cannot determine its lineage." I think that context comes into play here as well.
For a great example of something true, taken out of context and used to prove another point, see here.
6) Evaluate - I think that the lawyer in Elder Oaks would like to say "analyze". Essentially he says that we have intellectual and spiritual analyses that we need to go through. Of course we refer to thinking the issues through and then praying about it to receive a witness from the Holy Ghost. Caveat: Evangelists beware, we do rely on the Spirit to confirm truth. As Jeremy learned last week, we should not rely on the Holy Ghost but the Bible (how one comes to the conclusion that the Bible is then true is still not clear to me).
Elder Oaks then makes an interesting comment about those who come to the intellectual conclusion that the church is incorrect:
"Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true."
Interesting to see that during this talk I suppose. However, when recently reading through Bryce's Templestudy.com blog and his post of priesthood keys in the Book of Mormon, I came across this comment by spektator. All I have to say is "Holy Ark Steadying Batman!"