The Nov. 26 preview of the PBS television documentary "American Prophet--The Story of Joseph Smith" [Style] falls way short of the mark for the kind of award-winning television commentary that has long been the hallmark of The Post. Rather than presenting a thoughtful, critical essay on the cinematographic and substantive aspects of this Vermont Public Television-presented documentary, The Post's reviewer instead wrote a mean-spirited, anti-religious and anti-Mormon polemic. Going outside the documentary itself to cull unflattering material critical of Joseph Smith and the Latter-Day Saints, the reviewer, with his own obvious agenda, dredged up the usual slurs about the Mormon people and their early prophet-leader, Joseph Smith.

In reviewing this thoughtful, even-handed documentary, The Post's writer felt obliged to make scurrilous, unfounded and inapposite references to "cultlike control" and "David Koresh" and, what is most surprising in this time and place, to characterize imperiously Joseph Smith's and Mormon beliefs as "sheer audacity."

There is no justification for The Post's reviewer to trash the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or of its leader and founder. The reviewer is in no position to pass judgment on whether any religious leader from the past had an "oversized ego." Nor was it appropriate for the reviewer to criticize the producers of the documentary for not telling the television audience more about Joseph Smith's teachings. "American Prophet" was a balanced documentary about the life of a significant American religious leader and founder of a major Christian church that today has more than 10 million members. It was not a format for presenting church doctrine.

Let this informative documentary and the panel of distinguished American historians who appeared in it (more than half of whom were not Latter-Day Saints) speak for themselves on the life and times of Joseph Smith. It was unnecessary and unprofessional for The Post to summon up a surfeit of anti-Mormon and anti-religious feeling from the past.

RALPH W. HARDY Jr.

Potomac