Why Thomas S. Monson’s Obituary Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone

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By Andrew Creer | Sports Editor

On Jan. 3 2018, The New York Times published an obituary for Thomas S. Monson — the late prophet for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Many members of the LDS church were opposed to, and even appalled by, the content of the article, which seemed to highlight negative aspects of Monson’s church presidency, rather than focusing on the positives.

The outrage resulted in a petition, with 190,000 signatures, calling for The Times to rewrite the article. The Times responded, but not with a rewrite. William McDonald, the obituaries editor, answered questions regarding obituaries, specifically Monson’s.

I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure,” said McDonald.

It is a journalist’s job to report events and information that is newsworthy. According to McDonald, the obituary highlighted public issues Monson faced. The uproar of opposition would make sense if any of the issues were falsely stated and/or Monson’s reaction to said issues was misrepresented or inaccurate. To someone who is LDS, Monson’s humanitarian efforts and service are the highlights of his life. However, to the rest of the world, the most newsworthy information regarding a religious leader is how they respond to the matters of their time. It would have been wrong of McDonald, as a journalist, not to relay this information.

The New York Times writes articles that are most relevant to their particular audience. It is safe to say that many people who were outraged by this article do not read The New York Times on a regular basis, or even read The Times at all. The New York Times is not the Deseret News; their audience is not heavily LDS based and not connected to the LDS church. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a liberal leaning newspaper based out of New York highlighted Monson’s stance on same-sex marriage and having an all-male priesthood.

There are always two sides to every story. It can be mentioned that there are multiple positive aspects of Monson’s life highlighted in the obituary, but it was also relevant to The New York Times and their audience to mention the controversial aspects. Although members of the LDS church may not like it, there are plenty of people who did not support some policies made and enforced by the church during Monson’s presidency. If there is one thing that drives journalistic reporting, it’s conflict. Monson’s obituary focused on the many major conflicts surrounding the church because that information was the most relevant, not because The New York Times hates Monson and Mormons.

It’s time to put the pen and petitions away. Although there could’ve been organizational changes made to the obituary to make it seem less harsh, there is no reason The New York Times should feel remorseful for reporting information they felt was the most relevant to their audience. For a group of people who usually put the First Amendment on a pedestal, it should be understood that The Times has the right to report material in any way they see fit—as long as that material is true. Just because you don’t like something or don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean it needs to be changed. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it.