Less than a week after the death of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Prophet Thomas S. Monson, a petition to have the New York Times rewrite his obituary is gaining traction.
The petition, which had received more than 125,000 signatures as of 8:30 p.m. Monday, including many from Utah, called for the organization to apologize and change the obituary.
“Instead of highlighting the positive aspects of his life, or a neutral statement about the facts of his life, they decided to attack and disparage his character and used his obituary as a political statement against him and the Church as a whole and tweeted a click-bait headline to attack even further,” the petition states.
The obituary from the New York Times, which is titled: “Thomas Monson, President of the Mormon Church, Dies at 90”, drew complaints and concerns from people, particularly members of the LDS Church, after it was posted.
On Monday afternoon, the New York Times Obituaries editor noted the paper had received numerous comments from reader about the obituary.
“In hundreds of messages to The New York Times and dozens of comments on the obituary, readers, including many Mormons, wrote that the obituary focused too narrowly on the politics and controversies of the Mormon Church and overlooked Mr. Monson’s contributions to the community,” the comment said. “I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure. Some of these matters — the role of women in the church, the church’s policy toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and more — were widely publicized and discussed, and it’s our obligation as journalists, whether in an obituary or elsewhere, to fully air these issues from both sides. I think we did that, accurately portraying Mr. Monson’s positions as leader of the church, and those of the faithful and others who questioned church policies.”
The Times editor continues, “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. Still, on balance, I think the obituary makes clear that he was a man of strong faith and convictions, who stood by them even in the face of detractors, while finding ways to move the church forward.
“The obituary for Thomas Monson was written as a political statement to push the liberal agenda of the author instead of crafting a fair, neutral reflection of the person’s life. The obituaries of other people, including Fidel Castro, Boyd K Packer, or Pope John Paul II, were all written in a neutral manner. “This petition is, respectfully, requesting that you apologize for the political nature of the previously written obituary and rewrite the obituary in a balanced manner.
In the obituary, the New York Times talks about Monson’s role enlarging the missionary program, the church’s stances regarding the LGBT community and the unchanged policies on women receiving the priesthood.
“I have so many friends saying they loved it,” said Kai Kamai, Orem. “And so many saying it was awful. I didn’t find anything wrong with it, at all. Just the truth. I guess I just know him better than that and don’t need an ‘article’ to decide my final love for President Monson.” The obituary has been a point of discussion for Joel Campbell and some of his journalism students at Brigham Young University on their first day back to school in the new semester.
“Even non-mormons I’ve talked to say it’s biased,” said Joel Campbell, a professor in the school of Communications at BYU. Campbell is not only a specialist in ethics but also teaches media and religion.
Campbell noted that most members of the LDS Church don’t see LGBTQ issues or women not holding the priesthood as huge issues.
“The controversies are over-blown and over-stated,” Campbell said.
Kevin Dunn, a Mapleton resident and one that has worked in public relations, signed the petition. In doing so he said, “I believe editorials and opinions should be reserved for the Editorial Page or labelled as opinion pieces. News articles, Obituaries and Wedding Announcements should not be slanted but based on fact.”
“An obituary of that length in a prominent paper with very little on his life, looks like the Times is more about self-aggrandizement and using that sacred space, yes, I said sacred, to editorialize rather than promoting a person who was the epitome the virtue of service,” said Jim Sands, Orem. “I believe obituaries are to teach and show balanced respect.”
Karen Tapahe, of Provo, read the obituary and shared these feelings about the coverage.
“It was certainly slanted toward various controversies involving the LDS Church and it would have been nice if they had mentioned more accomplishments from his life.” Tapahe said. “But what was written wasn’t untrue and the media often prefers to publish what sells. Our local publications know that they need to publish more of the positive side about the LDS Church and its leaders or risk losing their core readers. National publications tend to be much more critical and look for the controversy to satisfy their core readers. That being said, the New York Times certainly wasn’t nearly as unbalanced with its obituary for Pope John Paul II. Personally I am comfortable with how I view President Monson and his life and will always appreciate his kindness, generosity, and service. I don’t feel that it is worth fighting the freedom of the press on this one but I would like to see NYT be more consistent with their coverage.”
The LDS Church Public Affairs said it had no comment or information to provide concerning the petition.