New York Times defends Pres. Monson obituary amid online backlash

FILE - In this April 4, 2015, file photo, President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, waves to the audience during the opening session of the Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died after nine years in office. He was 90. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

On January 3, 2018 the New York Times published an <a href=”https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/obituaries/thomas-monson-dies.html” target=”_blank”>obituary for Thomas S. Monson</a>, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who passed away on January 2nd. Many members of the LDS church felt the obituary focused too much on negative stories surrounding the church, generally, and did not focus enough on President Monson’s personal accomplishments or influence.

In fact, a online petition was started on <a href=”https://www.change.org/p/new-york-times-rewrite-thomas-monson-obituary” target=”_blank”>change.org</a> in an attempt to get the Times to change the obituary. Over 120,000 people have signed the petition as of this story’s publication. Additionally, the Times received multiple Letters to the Editor and comments on its own social media accounts criticizing the obituary. Some recent obituaries about Playboy publisher Hugh Heffner, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and even convicted murderer Charles Manson appeared more neutral than the one written about Mr. Monson.

Monday, the <a href=”https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/reader-center/thomas-monson-obituary.html” target=”_blank”>New York Times responded</a> by mostly defending the obituary. In it’s Reader Center, Times Obituary Editor William McDonald explained that controversial issues, such as denying priesthood to women, homosexuality and gay marriage, were “widely publicized and discussed” during Mr. Monson’s tenure and that they felt an obligation to present the issues from both sides. 

However, the Times did concede that some things could have been handled differently. 

“Many of those who found the obituary wanting feel we did not provide a more rounded view of Mr. Monson — perhaps his more human side,” McDonald stated. “I’ll concede that what we portrayed was the public man, not the private one, or the one known to his most ardent admirers.

“In 20/20 hindsight, we might have paid more attention to the high regard with which he was held within the church. I think by his very position in the church, all that was implied. But perhaps we should have stated it more plainly.”

The response also states that the paper is not in the “business of paying tribute.”

“We don’t write tributes. We strive for warts-and-all biography, in short form.”

The obituary did refer to Mr. Monson’s personal rise through church leadership, allowing historians unprecedented access to church documents and pointed to the significant change that occurred with missionary work (allowing both men and women to leave at younger ages, which led to a surge in missionary service in the church), among other things.

Funeral services for Mr. Monson will be January 12th in Salt Lake City. A public viewing will be held all day on January 11th with the funeral to follow at noon the next day. Both events will take place inside the LDS Conference Center.

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