SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 13 (AP) - A Mormon official called media coverage of the church biased and sloppy in an open letter sent Wednesday to reporters covering the 2002 Winter Games.

While most news reports from Salt Lake City have been fair, the letter said, others are "full of arrant nonsense and prejudice" and prove that Mormons are still as persecuted as they were when they fled to Utah in 1847.

Also Wednesday, the church criticized a Denver Post column mocking Mormonism and the Olympics. The piece was pulled from the paper's Web site and an apologetic column was planned for Thursday.

The letter was attributed to Alan Wakeley, director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, but was originally written for a church-affiliated magazine.

Church spokesman Dale Bill said Meridian Magazine editor-in-chief Maureen Proctor gave Wakeley permission to rewrite her article "to address a few concerns he had about some media coverage in Australia and New Zealand."

The piece criticizes articles written by the Sydney Daily Telegraph and five other news outlets, including one written by The Associated Press. It accused the media of "drive-by reporting," saying reporters have focused on polygamy, which has been banned by the church for more than a century, or portrayed the church as "a vast, wealthy, clannish and secretive empire."

"Unfortunately, when some journalists talk about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they create a caricature," the letter said.

The Salt Lake-based church has long been skittish about media attempts to dub the 2002 Winter Games the "Mormon games."

After repeated questions about polygamy and other dark spots in the church's past, Mormon officials mailed more than 3,000 press packets detailing the church's history.

And though Mormon officials say they're generally pleased with news reports, the official Web site posts a frequently updated list of corrections and clarifications of stories about the church.

Such mistakes are to be expected given the media's lack of interest in theological details, said Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon historian who has written several books about the faith. Newspapers are depending on their reporters in town to cover the games to give them quick stories about Mormons.

"They don't send the religion reporters, they send the sports reporters," Shipps said. "And they do the best they can. They don't know about the trinity, they know about a triple salchow."

An egregious example, church officials said, was a column by Woody Paige that appeared in Tuesday's edition of the Denver Post. Paige's story, titled "Colorado real winner of Games," joked that Olympic visitors would be so annoyed by Utah's cultural quirks they would never return to the state.

"The whole piece can be characterized as just a really nasty piece, an offensive piece for Utahns," said church spokesman Mike Otterson.

The article drew so many angry E-mails that technicians at the paper's Web site set up a special spot for complaints about the column. Denver Post editor Glenn Guzzo said Wednesday that the column was "inappropriate" and never should have been published, and promised that Paige's Thursday column would include an apology.

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