The New York Times has received some scrutiny on social media over the past week for its Jan. 3 obituary of President Thomas S. Monson, the 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who died Jan. 2 at the age of 90.
A Change.org petition calling for a rewrite of the obituary has collected more than 100,000 names. The obituary drew criticism for its focus on social issues that faced the LDS Church during President Monson’s time as prophet.
“Facing vociferous demands to recognize same-sex marriage, and weathering demonstrations at church headquarters by Mormon women pleading for the right to be ordained as priests, Mr. Monson did not bend,” the obituary read. “Teachings holding homosexuality to be immoral, bans on sexual intercourse outside male-female marriages, and an all-male priesthood would remain unaltered.”
On Monday, William McDonald, the obituaries editor for the New York Times, responded to questions drawn from reader feedback on the obituary. McDonald began by calling the obituary “a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure,” but later acknowledged those who feel the obituary “did not provide a more rounded view of Mr. Monson — perhaps his more human side.”
“I’ll concede that what we portrayed was the public man, not the private one, or the one known to his most ardent admirers,” McDonald said. “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.”
In the end, McDonald defended his publication’s coverage of President Monson’s death.
“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,” he said.
McDonald addressed other questions, such as how the New York Times chooses “which points from a person’s life to highlight,” whether there is an obligation to pay tribute in any way in writing an obituary and why they chose to refer to President Monson as “Mr” rather than by his title as church president.