The claim made by apologists these days, including Daniel Peterson, is that there was no active cover-up on the part of the Church. Of course there was, but it wasn't only the Church pulling wool.
The Mighty Mind of Provo and the mentor to all the great apologists, Hugh Nibley, played his own part in censoring the Joseph Smith story. UTLM has provided an account of it here, but I offer the outlines as I understand them, and some highlights, if only to call your attention to the unastonishing parallel and antecedent he provides for our Dear Friend, Dr. Peterson: what he's been up to is a part of a venerable tradition in Classical Apologetics. The difference now is that the game is all rhetorical, whereas in the past it actually involved hiding documents in safes.
In the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 11 (see here), Nibley dazzles his readers and befuddles his critics with his trademark mastery of languages—in this case, the language of deception:
Hugh Nibley wrote:The writer’s great-grandfather, a Jew, one day after he had given Joseph Smith a lesson in German and Hebrew in 1844 asked him about certain particulars of the first vision. In reply he was told some remarkable things, which he wrote down in his journal that very day. But in the ensuing forty years of his life, during which he had many children and grandchildren and preached many sermons, Brother Neibaur seems never once to have referred to the wonderful things the Prophet told him—it was quite by accident that the writer discovered them in his journal. Why was the talkative old man so close-lipped on the one thing that could have made him famous? Because it was a sacred and privileged communication; it was never published to the world and never should be.
What you have, then, is another account of the First Vision, so-called, in Hugh Nibley's hands. What hard-nosed, probing skepticism did Neibaur lob at the innocent prophet? What were these tantalizing revelations that this Jewish convert received from the prophet in turn? If Nibley had had his way, no one would ever know. For Nibley himself donated the journal containing this account to the Church Historian's Office, then led by Joseph Fielding Smith, one of the greatest ecclesiastical historians in modern times never to finish high school. And he did so with the full understanding that the contents of the journal would remain secret.
Enriched with less learning than Nibley though certainly with more than Smith (not hard to achieve for anyone who can read) but endowed with a pugnacity equal to both, the Tanners had earlier read a similar claim of Nibley's published in the mid 1950s and republished in the CWHN (see here):
Hugh Nibley wrote:The writer’s great-grandfather was a Jew, and a very hardheaded and practical man. He tells in his journal, writing on the very day that the event took place, of how he cross-examined Joseph Smith on every minute detail of the First Vision and of how the Prophet satisfied him promptly and completely. From that day he never doubted the calling of the Prophet.
That's somewhat consistent with what Nibley later wrote, although missing is a reference to the "remarkable things" andt the "sacred communications" that he would later claim were contained in the account. In any case, Sandra Tanner wrote to ask about this account in early 1960:
Sandra Tanner wrote:I am quite interested in your [great] grandfather's diary that you quote in your book, The World And The Prophets, and I wonder if it would be possible to obtain a copy of it? If this is not possible, do you have a copy of his diary that I could read
Hugh Nibley wrote:The day my great-grandfather heard that remarkable account of the First Vision from Joseph Smith he wrote it down in his journal; and for 40 years after he never mentioned it to a soul. Therefore, when I came across the story unexpectedly I handed the book over to Joseph Fielding Smith and it is now where it belongs—in a safe.
There is something curious about this response: "therefore..." Why "therefore"? The account is unknown, and "therefore" it must remain so. Neibaur had long been dead and probably no one at the time would have heard of him, so it must have been not how the account reflected on Neibaur but what the account contained. Later that year, Nibley would claim that the prophet told Neibaur "remarkable things" of such spiritual import that the whole thing had to remain privileged information, more than a century after it was written down. Nibley was perhaps implying here in this letter, in essence, that it contained something personal and private, perhaps "things too sacred to relate." In any event, the contents of the account themselves were such that they "therefore" needed to be kept secret—in a safe.
Remember that Nibley was not just some relief society president in Parowan like yours truly, not some rube (again, your truly) who found an old book that looked important. He was by the far the ablest and most learned mind in the Church, and he knew the early history of Mormonism as well as anything, perhaps better. His first LDS publication ("No Ma'am, That's not History") dealt with the era, as did a string of articles and some books in the 1960s. He knew what he was looking at when he chanced upon this account, and he knew what he was doing when he handed it over to Joseph Fielding Smith. He also knew that this was going to be hidden from view, and to him hiding it was the most natural thing in the world ("therefore...").
And it hidden it was. Nibley himself couldn't access the journal after he'd donated it, except with the special intervention of the president of the Church. Still, he at least knew what it contained, or presented himself in at least two published articles as having knowledge of the contents. So Sandra Tanner asked him again in a letter for information about what the account contained, to which Nibley impatiently replied:
Hugh Nibley wrote:Dear Mrs. Tanner,
I believe I said in my letter to you that the Neibaur Journal now reposes in a safe in the Church Historians Office, where it belongs.
The reason that Alexander Neibaur told no one of his experience for forty years is that it was strictly confidential and should remain so. I think I should respect his confidence. Actually, the last time I asked permission to see the Journal, I was refused. Any attempt to reproduce it at this time is out of the question.
Yours very sincerely,
Neibaur had been dead for nearly 80 years at that point, so it's hard to imagine what the harm to him could be in revealing the contents of this account. In fact, the 1844 account, finally published in the 1970s and available now in Dan Vogel's fifth volume of Early Mormon Documents, does not match Nibley's claims:
Alexander Neibaur wrote:Br[other] Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival Meeting his Mother & Br[other] & Sist[er] got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack Wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberality & upraidat not [James 1:5] went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down his tongue was closet cleavet to his roof—could not utter a word, felt easier after a while—saw a fire towards heaven came near & nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a wile a other person came to the side of the first Mr Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church—No—they are not my People, [they] I have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one, but this is my Beloved son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher, Rested upon the tree enveloped him
As the Tanners point out, there is nothing here about a "hard-headed" Jew interrogating Joseph Smith about his claims—the meeting isn't even private. Nor do the contents seem "sacred and special," as Nibley erroneously claimed, at least not any more sacred or special than the published 1838 account. Nor are there any particularly intimate details about Alexander Neibaur, except that he couldn't spell as well Joseph Fielding Smith (who was also very cagey when asked about Neibaur's account, though he was less misleading about it than Nibley). But that is hardly the sort of knowledge that needs to be kept hidden in a safe.
I leave it to others to investigate how this deviates from the 1838 account and to argue how this Post-Vision should fit into the general problem of the Proto-Visions and the First Vision. Suffice it to say, Nibley's characterization of the account is not simply bogus but dishonest: he not only misrepresents the account but used his own privileged access to the material to score a series of rhetorical points. That he had it hidden away and gave a false reason to justify doing so is disturbing.
This whole episode gives the lie to the claim that the Church didn't engage in censorship—Joseph Fielding Smith put it in a vault and wouldn't let anyone see it!—but it's not only the Church that has practiced censorship but the purveyors of Classical Apologetics themselves.