SALT LAKE CITY — The New York Times issued a formal response to the many readers who "reacted strongly" to the paper's coverage of the death of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.
Many members of the Mormon faith took issue with the obituary, which starts out with some of the more controversial points of the LDS leader's tenure: "Thomas S. Monson, who as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2008 enlarged the ranks of female missionaries, but rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage, died on Tuesday at his home in Salt Lake City."
As The Atlantic writer McKay Coppins put it, some felt the Times' obituary "defined his life’s work by the things he didn’t do," rather than "his commitment to personal ministry."
The Times' response to readers, posted on the Reader Center section of the paper's website Monday evening, said readers complained: "the obituary focused too narrowly on the politics and controversies of (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and overlooked Mr. Monson’s contributions to the community."
In an effort to explain the process taken in writing last week's obituary, New York Times obituaries editor William McDonald answered several questions compiled from the feedback the paper received.
"I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure," McDonald said. "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."
He added, "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."
McDonald also noted the paper is "not in the business of paying tribute. We’re journalists first and foremost," and in documenting the life of a religious leader like President Monson, "it would almost go without saying that he or she had won the respect and admiration of those who put them in positions to lead."
Of the paper's choice to address the church leader as "Mr. Monson" — something many readers apparently took offense to — McDonald said it was a conscious decision made to adhere to writing policy while showing proper respect.
"I noticed that the Deseret News in Utah used 'President' on each reference to Mr. Monson, but that The Salt Lake Tribune — like almost every other American publication — dispensed with any honorific altogether," he said. "To my ear, 'Mr. Monson' sounds far more respectful than just 'Monson.'"
In addition to the negative feedback the New York Times received directly, more than 145,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for the paper to "formally apologize for this bias in reporting and present an honest, neutral and balanced obituary."
That petition was not specifically mentioned in Monday's response from the New York Times.
To read more of McDonald's explanation regarding the President Monson obituary, visit the New York Times Reader Center web page.
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