Edit: The Times on January 8 responded to reader criticism of the obituary in question. Their response, while acknowledging some failings, essentially circled the wagons and justified their position. This is still unacceptable.
On January 3, The New York Times published an obituary for Thomas S. Monson, late president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was revered by its members as their prophet, seer, and revelator.
Instead of taking the opportunity to pay tribute to an honorable and humble servant of humanity who spent most of his 90 years of life ministering to the lonely, the widowed, and the forgotten, they took an opportunity to turn what should have been an expression of respect into a reprehensible potshot at the Church and its doctrine, commonly known as Mormonism.
A respected newspaper that is charged with reporting facts objectively and without bias instead decided that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fair game for mockery and disparagement, and prostituted their reputation for a chance to take a reprehensible Cheap Shot at an organization of 15 million members that has done immense good throughout the world since its inception. Instead of an obituary, the piece became a virtual hatchet job, echoing the complaints of disaffected members and sounding like something that might have been written by Gerald and Sandra Tanner.
The Church is a community of faith that believes in ongoing, modern revelation, that believes in a Church led directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a democratic institution where people can agitate and effectuate changes in doctrine. They are free to participate, or not. They are free to follow their leaders, or not. They are free to remain members, or not. They don’t even have to think the same way as their leaders if they don’t want to, and they can remain members in good standing. If the Church is not for them, let them go where they may and find joy – but a vocal minority that captures the attention of a click-hungry press seems to think that they, not God, are directing the affairs of the Church, and they are bitterly angry about this.
It is these feelings and protesting voices that the Times chose to bring to the forefront of President Monson’s obituary, not his nearly a century of life and virtual decades of compassionate service on a personal level as well as an administrator in the Church’s hierarchy. This represents a gross contravention of decency and reputability, for which the Times owes every Latter-day Saint and every lover of respectable journalism a heartfelt apology.
The Times is a newspaper. There is nothing that says they can’t do all the investigative journalism or “exposé” pieces that they want, as long as the facts they report are verifiable and accurate. That’s what journalists do. But to rest this sort of poison-pen letter on the memory of a good, honest, and decent man, possibly one of the most Christlike individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating with, is the ultimate abrogation of all principles of decent journalism that there could be, worthy of a trash publication like The National Enquirer and not one of the nation’s flagship newspapers. Shame, shame, the very deepest shame on The Times.
I trust that they will do the right thing, and express appropriate regret for this horrible lapse of judgment, from writer to editors to publisher. They are, of course, free to choose – but they should remember that every choice has prices and benefits, and choose wisely.
The Old Wolf has Spoken.