Thoughts on Monson’s NYT Obituary

The NYT’s framing of the life of President Monson was, to say the least, interesting. The obituary begins:

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. He was 90.

It’s just as illuminating to contrast the way the NYT approached President Monson’s death with that of other leaders. Here’s their tweet for President Monson.

By contrast, here’s what they tweeted when Fidel Castro died.

The comparison with Castro is particularly interesting because of Castro’s history with the Cuban LGBT community. As unwelcome and controversial as the Church’s continued position on sexual morality is, President Monson never presided over a repressive regime that literally rounded up homosexuals and sent them to forced-labor camps. (It is worth noting that although the Castro regime repressed the Cuban LGBT community for decades, Castro eventually had a change of heart and apologized before his death.)

Other controversial figures include folks like Hugh Hefner and Hugo Chavez.

Naturally, this treatment has gotten a lot of attention among the Mormon community, with most expressing anger or irritation at the NYT’s coverage, although I did find at least one dissenting view in a public Facebook post by Aaron Brown. Citing a friend, Brown quoted:

I’m quite perplexed at the number of Mormons who are offended and outraged by the Times’ obit for President Monson. While Monson was beloved of his people, he was also a public figure, and he’s going to be evaluated as such. We can hardly expect the paper of record to devote the balance of the piece to a discussion of widows who loved him in his 20s, or the adorable way he wiggled his ears. As Mormons, we don’t get to control how the rest of the world sees us. If we don’t like the coverage, it might be worth thinking about why others view us that way.

It’s a point worth considering.

Religious communities–Mormonism is far from alone in this regard–can sometimes become a little too enamored with imaginary martyrdom. The idea that other people are persecuting you is flattering both because it validates your own importance and because it allows you to cast yourself in a heroic role. But the idea that Christians in the United States–Mormon, Catholic, or other–are persecuted strains the definition of the word and disrespects the legacy of those persecuted in Christianity’s ancient past and especially those who face genuine persecution today. (It should go without saying that many non-Christian religions also face persecution today but, just in case, I have now gone ahead and said it.) A negative tweet–even from the New York Times–is not an example of persecution.

On the other hand, I haven’t actually heard a single person call the NYT tweet or obituary persecution. (I’m sure someone has, but it’s not a narrative that I’m seeing.) Instead, people are observing that the NYT’s treatment of President Monson is both unfair and an attempt at coercion. And those facts are true. Mormons, in a lot of ways, are a kind of religious punching bag. As a group, we’re about as conservative as they come and we don’t hit back.

Aaron’s friend’s comment doesn’t contest this. Far from it, the comment implicitly endorses this kind of punching bag approach. We’ll let the Hugh Hefners and Fidel Castros of the world exit the mortal stage with respect and dignity, but let’s go ahead and stick it to the President Monsons of the world because Mormons deserve it, because Mormons won’t punch back, and–best of all–because if we hit them rhetorically enough times maybe they’ll get in line.

I appreciate that introspection is a healthy habit. If someone seems to really dislike you, then it’s a good habit to take a moment now and then and ask yourself why. That’s fair.

But I take a really dim view of the prospect of any moral consensus–regardless of its content–that is created and enforced through ridicule and public shaming. There is nothing generous, enlightened, civil, or responsible about a prominent news outlet selectively using obituaries to settle scores and enforce cultural dogma. It may be a long way from persecution, but it’s also a long way from acceptable. Calls for introspection in response to rule-through-browbeating are complicit unless they distance themselves from that tactic.

UPDATE – Since I wrote this, but before the post went live, I came across an exemplary obituary for President Monson. Instead of taking note of The Economist’s great example, the NYT posted a response to the feedback on their own obituary that managed to be incredibly condescending and patronizing while studiously avoiding a direct response to their critics. Not only is it a non-apology, it’s not even a legitimate response. For shame, NYT. For shame.


48 comments for “Thoughts on Monson’s NYT Obituary

  1. But I take a really dim view of the prospect of any moral consensus–regardless of its content–that is created and enforced through ridicule and public shaming.

    Which is not to say, outside of some hypothetical are probably hopeless consensus-building, that “ridicule and public shaming” can have no possible place in the public square, right?

  2. Isn’t it worth noting a distinction between the lede/tweet and the obit itself? The lede and the tweet were pretty obvious missteps, and compared with the lede on other figures, looks pretty bad, as you point out. But the obit itself, while not totally laudatory, isn’t outside the bounds of reasonable, I think.

    Probably for the same reason, I disagree with you that the NYT response was incredibly condescending and patronizing. I think an acknowledgment that the tweet/lede was misstep would have been good, but I don’t think they were wrong to defend and not apologize for the obit itself. The petition makes church members look petulant, whiny, and out of touch, and I’m glad the NYT response didn’t directly respond to it and thus give it more attention.

  3. To be clear, I do think the obit had problems, and on further reflection, they should have acknowledged that more in the follow-up. I just don’t think those problems are significant enough to put it outside the bounds of reasonable journalism. But it’s time for everyone to let it go.

  4. Which is not to say, outside of some hypothetical are probably hopeless consensus-building, that “ridicule and public shaming” can have no possible place in the public square, right?

    I’m certainly not going to rule them out categorically, but as a general rule contemporary discourse is already overdosing on ridicule and public shaming. The punching up vs. punching down guideline also seems relevant, and it’s hard to see how the NYT taking on the Mormons is punching up.

    But those concerns are really academic compared to the central point: the NYT chose to attack a religious leader in his obituary while they give folks like Hugh Hefner and Fidel Castro a pass. The debate about how and when to use ridicule and shame has room for nuance, but this particular example is pretty cut-and-dry.

  5. Russell, I don’t think there’s any problem with outlets ridiculing or attempting to shame either Monson or Mormons. (With Monson dead it seems kind of pointless to attempt to shame him I’d suppose) As I’ve often said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bias. It’s exactly what I’d expect from say Jezebel, National Review, Talking Points Memo, or even the New Republic. It’s not what most people expect from the New York Times. I think it was particularly the near hagiography of Hugh Hefner relative to Monson that irked more than a few people. Also as McKay Coppins noted, the problem was that crucial elements of Monson’s legacy were missed. Some might say a newspaper like the New York Times only ought focus on the public facing aspects of such a figure. That is how he affected the country. Certainly the NYT response defended themselves in that fashion. Yet it seems to me the biggest problem was less the article (which, while somewhat biased wasn’t unexpectedly so and ultimately was fine) than it was the lede — particularly the way the tweet from the Times to the article read.

    All that said, the reaction has been more than a little overstated as well. Not that many years ago Mormons were constantly castigated by all sides, inflammatory and distorting “exposes” Godmakers was regularly shown in Evangelical circles, people berated us as part of a cult, parents would regularly not let their children play with Mormons, etc. Heck, some people would sincerely think we had horns. Missionaries would regularly have filled soda cups thrown at us or even car doors opened to knock biking missionaries down. Yet today people are upset because a newspaper wasn’t as nice and polite as they perhaps should have been. I think snowflake fits for those overly upset at all this.

  6. JKC-

    I don’t think they were wrong to defend and not apologize for the obit itself.

    This is naive of you and viciously cynical of the NYT’s editor. They know for a fact that only a tiny fraction of readers will complete any given online article. Virtually all of the impact that an article carries is the headline and the lede. And the tweet deserves to be evaluated as a stand-alone. Even if I grant for the sake of argument that the obituary as a whole was completely unobjectionable, that’s no excuse to set aside the lede and the tweet.

    I didn’t sign the petition and I agree it’s a bit silly. I have no beef with the NYT ignoring it. But they should have replied to the *content* of the criticisms they provoked, and they did not. This is just further evidence of the contempt with which the NYT views Mormons in particular and the religious in general.

  7. I agree with the OP that the NYT obit was an attempt to punish a group that defies the enlightened cultural norms the NYT expects everyone to conform to. I also agree with JKC that the petition only exacerbates the disagreement.

    What would be a more effective way to “hit back”? Or is this just another opportunity to turn the other cheek?

  8. Thinking about our response to the outright ridicule of the play, The Book of Mormon, by taking it with good humor, turning the other cheek, and putting ads in the playbook. This garnered us a surprising amount of goodwill – especially needed after the turmoil of Prop-8. I’d suggest we make our objections known, and then repay evil with good.

  9. “And the tweet deserves to be evaluated as a stand-alone.”

    That’s my point. The OP conflates them. The tweet was out of line. The obit was mostly okay, though I agree there were issues, and your point about the lede having the most impact is well taken.

    In the end, I think we probably agree more than we disagree on the substance. (I don’t follow you to the conclusion that this is indicative of a larger “contempt” of religious people in general. But I don’t think you’re trying to prove that here anyway.)

  10. I was not surprised by the lede nor the content of the NYT “obituary” for President Monson. I expect no better from the NYT and have grown accustomed to reading worse coverage of my faith in the “Newspaper of Record”.

  11. It used to surprise me, but it is now clear that no matter what the topic is – including Carthage Jail and Missouri – there will be some Mormon who will sigh knowingly and say, “we brought this on ourselves.” The NYT is going to do what it does, but it’s the instinct to internalize and justify any and every criticism of the Church that is the more damaging. You see this long enough and you start to recognize a pattern.

  12. I’m having a hard time understanding criticisms of the NYTimes’s tweet. 95% (I’m estimating here) of the people criticizing it would applaud if there were a chapter in President Monson’s (imaginary future) Teachings of The Presidents of the Church titled “Thomas Monson rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage.”

  13. @ Wahoo Fleer is getting at something here, I think. Perhaps a great deal of the negative reactions (as already evidenced by Cordeiro and, I suspect, others) is more about confirmation bias towards the NYT than anything else.

  14. The NY Times obituary highlights an interesting quality of the LDS church president: he is an aged man whose newsworthy relevance to the wider world only began only a decade ago. Castro’s and Hefner’s newsworthiness peaked half a century ago and had mostly vanished twenty years ago. That allowed a bit of detachment in reporting the death of the old dictator and the old pornographer. So not only was the old prophet an enemy on the other side of the NY Times’ us/them map, he was an enemy in a current engagement.

  15. That’s an interesting point I’d not thought of before John. I think you might be right there.

    Brian, wouldn’t that be the opposite of confirmation bias? They’re upset at something they already believe. But I think the point was that to only draw out the political battle seems myopic. I don’t have any problem with the NYTs discussing that. Indeed they’d be negligent not to discuss it. However to reduce in the lede Monson to the LGBT controversy seems lazy.

  16. I have not yet felt any degree of outrage at the NYTs obituary of President Monson. I don’t expect that newspaper, or for that matter any major newspaper except the Deseret News or SL Tribune, to understand the high degree of warmth and respect we have for Thomas Monson, or for any of our prophets. The Book of Mormon musical pokes fun at our teachings, and at the energetic naivete of our missionaries. As a church we were able to chuckle at those missionaries, and allowed a certain degree of latitude in regards to our doctrine. However President Monson seems to us to be pure, without guile, kind and benevolent. In our minds he doesn’t deserve disrespectful treatment. The NYTs does not understand this respect. I don’t expect them to. I hope that they would report on President Monson in a way that is free of falsehoods but I can’s expect them to understand his life in whole. I will continue to read and support the NYTs and will not turn to them to tell me about Mormon things.

  17. Clark Goble, whether negative or positive, it’s still confirmation bias.

    As someone who is uncomfortable with the many aspects of the Church’s stance on gender and homosexuality, I initially cringed at the tweet myself, but that doesn’t change the fact, that, as I see it, no other topic in either ‘the media’ or even the blogosphere has claimed more space than gender issues. As much as I don’t like it, as John Mansfield points out, such issues are, arguably, what generated the most impact during President Monson’s tenure.

  18. Some may have noticed that Hootie Johnson died last summer. I never would have known his name, but in 1998 he became chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club. I still would never have heard his name, but an activist decided it was time that Augusta National had some women as members of the club and started staging protests. I still never would have known the club chairman’s name, but the New York Times decided the activist’s cause was one the nation needed to know about, and so it published 40 articles about the matter, and so it was that I did hear of Hootie Johnson.

    It only made sense that Mr. Johnson’s NY Times obituary would be dominated by the one matter of his life, and of his eight years as chairman, that that paper chose to devote considerable attention a decade earlier: “Hootie Johnson, Who Opposed Letting Women Into Augusta National, Dies at 86”.

    The curiosity I now have: Is there any relation between Richard Goldstein, who wrote NY Times’ obituary of Hootie Johnson, and Laurie Goldstein, a religion writer who has written most of that paper’s articles on the LDS church?

  19. The point of curiosity is rescinded: The religion writer’s name is Goodstein, not Goldstein.

  20. The obit is not well-written. It is choppy and disjointed in parts. It should have started out differently, I agree. Still, I read it several times and couldn’t find anything offensive. I thought it was fair. It wasn’t trying to settle scores or enforce cultural dogma (please). It talked about relevant issues that occurred when he was president. As for the Castro, Chavez, and Heffner, they were figures who had more worldwide recognition, hence the obit writers took more time to carefully craft their prose. Bear in mind that far-right media outlets like the Washington Examiner are using the comparison of Castro’s obit and Monson’s to take a jab at liberals and liberal media and propel this ridiculous caricaturization of liberals as secretly admiring of socialist dictators, which is absolutely groundless.

    But the overreaction of LDS folks to this is insane. Monson didn’t bend to demands to reverse policy on gay marriage and women in the priesthood. Isn’t that what he was supposed to be doing? Isn’t that a mark of his strong leadership? Isn’t it uncompromisingly wrong to think that women should have the priesthood or that same-sex marriage should be legit? You may think that these weren’t issues that should be highlighted and that his service efforts should have received more attention (the obit should have focused on his service and didn’t). However, who has been at the forefront of emphasizing the relevance of male-only priesthood and supposed evils of legalized gay marriage? Well, none other than the LDS leaders themselves. So why not include such issues in the obituary? Plus, Monson faced lots of disaffections (including even General Authorities like Hans Mattson) during his tenure. He even agreed to have the COB publish the Gospel Topics essays on sensitive topics while prophet. So why mention these? The LDS overreaction to this is much more of a tragedy than the actual obituary itself. It shows signs that the LDS community has a serious persecution complex. Give me a break. The obituary is at worst poorly organized and forgetful of some other relevant facts. But that is it. The writer even consult Bushman to write it.

  21. “The church doesn’t ‘seek apologies,’ Dallin Oaks said, ‘and we don’t give them.'”

    While I don’t appreciate the NYT’s choice of what to lead with or what to emphasize, I also don’t know why one should expect a real apology from an entity that seems to see itself not only as “journalists” but as much as the promulgator of correct moral judgment just as the Church does.

    This from NYT: “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” may be closer to an apology than what the Church has done with respect to some of its past actions that had real negative effect on many.

    Maybe I’m just too exhausted to be outraged or to look for or evaluate “apologies”.

  22. Here is a quote from Elder Bednar that I thought would be relevant:

    “When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else….In many instances, choosing to be offended is a symptom of a much deeper and more serious spiritual malady.”

  23. Although not nice to say negative things about someone right after they died, face it- President Monson was suffering from dementia most of the time he was supposedly rebuffing and refusing as described. Put that saddle on the right horse, the other top LDS leaders. In addition to being biased and rude, add WRONG to the list of NYT flaws.(Not that I think President Monson in his right mind would have done anything else but we will never know.)

    Consider the source, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the NYT thinks Castro, Chavez, Heffer (who deserve to be roasting in hell for their rank wickedness) deserve praise while failing to give a balanced report about the passing of a great LDS leader. I join Elder Bednar and refuse to be offended by a unreliable rag like the NYT which might have once been a good news source and probably continues to have many excellent articles. But not reliably any more.

    I find the greater agenda of the left which the NYT champions to be poorly thought-out and executed. If the impeachment of Trump is a high priority, a newly elected senator Romney from Utah might be a crucial friend and ram rod for this to happen. It will take about 20 Republican senators to do it. Why alienate him by insulting his church leader? But the left is too myopic and self-focused to get rid of Trump; too busy whining and taking useless digs at those not in lock step with their modern godless politically correct Puritanism. This NYT article is good news in the ears of the Trumpsters, strengthening their base and dividing those needed to oust him.

  24. @ Mike (a different one): Your comment sounds like one hobby horse characterizing what they perceive to be another one; as myopic as anything you complain about in the NYT.

  25. I’ve had enough of the comparisons with the obits of Chavez and Castro. The NYTImes called Castro a tyrant who brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. It called Chavez a “caudillo” (dictator) and featured a number of unflattering quotes about his character. Don’t try to sell me the right-wing propaganda that liberals and the liberal-tilting media are secret admirers of socialist dictators. Plus, I will proudly stand up for the NYTimes. They are among the leading and best news organizations in the world. Point out what flaws you must. I dare you to find any right-slanted news organizations that aren’t infested with cranks, charlatans, propagandists, and outright liars (I’m looking at you Faux News and Washington Examiner). Nathaniel’s ill-conceived comparisons to Chavez and Castro emanate from the right-wing echo chamber, and an embarrassment on his part. Are those obits better written than Monson’s? Yes. Because they are simply historical figures who are far more relevant to human history (Heffner included). But this comparing apples to oranges.
    Monson is but a footnote in history whose name was barely known outside Mormonism. This does NOT mean that the NYTimes was kowtowing to socialist dictators in any way shape or form.

  26. The obituary was less an obituary than an article attempting to place President Monson’s life into context for readers who have zero familiarity with the name Thomas Monson. A context that unsurprisingly focuses on the social changes the country as a whole has been experiencing in recent years. It wasn’t particularly well-written. But that is shrug-worthy to me. I couldn’t find anything to object to factually. And the comparisons to obituaries of figures the Times could have expected their readers to already have some background knowledge on make it seem to me that we as a people are reaching to find rationalization for our sense of outrage.

    I find the petition and the many insults hurled at the NYTimes to be pointless and a little embarrassing. We have work to do and I as far as I can see this reaction can only harm that work. I don’t understand why when claiming to have the truth we seem so often expect to receive validation from outsiders. I’m not saying that a warm and cuddly obit from ‘the paper of record’ wouldn’t have been nice. But in the end it would have had as little meaning as the one we got.

  27. “The NYTImes called Castro a tyrant who brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. It called Chavez a “caudillo” (dictator) and featured a number of unflattering quotes about his character.”

    And yet both got far more flattering ledes than Pres. Monson. Which seems significant given that many people don’t ever get past the headlines. I think that’s the point the OP is trying to make, but which you’re blowing past in favor of your leftists-don’t-love-dictators tangent.

  28. jimbob, the comparison between the obit of Monson and those of Chavez and Castro is apples to oranges. The first ones to make such comparisons are far right news outlets who could care less about what the NYTimes actually had to say about Monson but were far more interested in pursuing a right-wing agenda. Nathaniel’s post is really nothing more than a right-wing knee-jerk reaction more than a serious concern for how Monson was written about. Right-wing Mormons such as Nathaniel, you, and that guy who circulated that petition have just bandwagoned with a ridiculous right-wing meme. Who, might I remind you, is THE leading figure of the conservative right-wing movement? Ah yes, that’s right. None other than the serial liar, conman, likely felon, and sexual deviant Trump himself.

  29. Ted, what’s the right wing agenda being pushed with complaints about the obituary? (Honest question – I confess I don’t see it) At best the right wing seems to have more of a focus on traditional religion. While there’s definitely left wing religion, it tends to be religion that matches policy with left wing values and policies and is relatively willing to jettison traditional belief that conflicts with such policies. The relationship of traditional religion and the right is more complicated than the left often seems to acknowledge. You can see that in particular with conservative Catholics. They have strong communitarian instincts, are more open to redistribution and immigration, yet socially often (but not always) align with the right.

    To the Castro, Hefner and Monson comparison, again those raising this are focusing on the lede, not the entirety of the obituaries. So, to use your language, it’s an apples to oranges comparison.

  30. Wow Ted B. That’s no fewer than three ad hominem attacks in a single comment. There’s no need to insult the intelligence of others others just because they see things differently than you do.

  31. Clark Goble, I am never able to follow your comments. You have a problem of being too subtle, counterintuitive, and arcane. Plus, you never seem to directly address the central points of others and if you do, you do so in the most convoluted way possible. Your comments remind of that movie Inception, where there is an underlying plot within and underlying plot. I fear that too much reading of philosophy has corrupted your ability to communicate clearly. I would respond to your comment, but alas, how can I respond to mumbo jumbo?

    The Other Clark, I remember past interactions with you. You have a history of acting like a clown. I will have no business with you.

  32. Ted:

    I totally agree with your assessment of the right wing media. But this is not a comparison between right and left with the home team being favored by which ever side one calls home. The problem is that I see BOTH of them as seriously flawed. Every jab you throw towards the right, a equally strong jab can be thrown back to the left. I defy you to create a metric that can reliably measure this and demonstrate one side is not as bad as the other. We have witnessed the shriveling of professional journalism on both sides.

    Generally in the week following a death of a prominent individual it is polite to not speak disrespectful of them. Obits and funerals are notorious for painting a pretty picture and ignoring faults. Not the NYT when it comes to President or Mr Monson.That is the point. NYT=disrespectful to Monson. Be outraged, accept it or quietly chuckle to yourself. Your choice.

    On to more important questions. How do you suggest we get the momentum to impeach Trump? Insulting and fighting among his shared enemies does not seem to be that smart. Mormon (50%) Utah only went 15% for Trump in the primary. Many held their nose and voted against Clinton. A few sycophants emerged but make no doubt, Trump is hardly the darling of Mormons. The left needs more allies from the middle or from anywhere. Perhaps the NYT with all their sophisticated political machinations could figure this one out.They didn’t.Trumpsters win again.

    PS I used the name Mike (a different one) for clarity in a remote discussion involving another MIke. It accidently got transferred to this discussion. Sorry.

  33. Asking what right wing agenda is being pushed by pointing out a obituary is unfair is mumbo jumbo?

  34. I’ll admit I can’t see the windmills in the OP which you seem to be tilting at, Ted. My apologies.

  35. I’ve been following the discussion here and on many other threads. Nathaniel has even updated his OP, calling shame on the NYT, linking to a supposedly ‘incredibly condemning and patronizing’–without any discussion of how it is.

    What I still can’t understand is what anyone’s actual problem is. I don’t see any real arguments, just conjecture and personal angst. I mean, who’s to say that President Monson wouldn’t be happy being remembered for the stance of the Church on gender issues, which has obviously split more ink that any other issue or event during his tenure? Taken at face value, the words of the twitter lede could be seen as high praise. So why isn’t it? The NYT published it? Members aren’t as comfortable with the Church’s stances on gender issues as they might otherwise pretend to be? Maybe church members feel like the overwhelming publicness of the gender issues should be overshadowed by, say, charity? But the truth is, the church during the past few years has absolutely been defined by those issues: both within and without of the church.

    Frankly, I say shame on those people who are making this into some big deal and calling it ‘a long way from acceptable.’ The bigger picture is there, but people are seeing it. That’s what I find the most revealing. This is saying something about our own, collective, unease far more than about the NYT.

  36. Brian, I’m getting the same sense that the angst about this is telling us a whole lot more about Mormons’ anxieties and insecurities than it is about the NYT. I can’t think of any other things that we think set us apart from and above the World that the tweet could have cited that would have elicited this reaction.

    “Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon church who never drank alcohol and was faithful to his wife, died Tuesday at 90.”

    How nice, right? How are those any different from “who rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage?”

    We’re the ones who made our positions on gender and sexuality the most noteworthy things about us. And if we’re not proud of that, then maybe our collective spirits, not to mention the Spirit, are trying to tell us something.

  37. Lazuli, while that may be true for some people, I think most I’ve seen just found it rude and impolite. Certainly it does fall somewhat into the culture wars where there’s a perception (largely correct) that secular elites look down their noses at religion. While I’m a critic of the NYTs on this point, it’s not as if I was surprised, nor do I see it as a big deal honestly. I do think there’s starting to be a perception, again largely correct, that Mormons are considered fair game in discussions in a fashion others are not. It’s not at all surprising some people would start to push back on this point.

    Brian, as I said I don’t think it a big deal. Although I’m surprised you say there’s no argument. Comparing NYT obituaries not only to figures like Castro or Hefner is a pretty clear and compelling argument for a double standard. Some have also noted Catholic obituaries that are treated differently. Given that on the points of contention Catholics share the same views as Mormons I think that’s a compelling argument for Mormons being treated differently.

  38. Clark Goble, I disagree. I still don’t see the argument. You aren’t making one. Nobody is (at least nothing substantial; one can argue over anything). People only say: look! And I do. Read over the ledes again. Remove passion.Read the Castro lede again: “Fidel Casto, the Cuban revolutionary who defied the US, died Friday. He was 90.” Is that positive or negative? Depends on who you ask. President Monson: “Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon church who rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage, died Tuesday at 90.” I have yet to see any argument that can explain to me any double-standard here. And I really can’t see the argument that somehow that is ‘nicer’ than the lede for President Monson. This whole things feels more like a analyzing a Rorschach test than anything else.

    Again, I still think the outcry reveals much more about those making the argument than the actual blots of ink split here.

  39. Not sure why you don’t think that’s an argument. In the OP the ledes only give positive points even for very controversial figures who many think did bad things. For Monson only the controversial negative things are mentioned, with no positivity. That’s a difference. For major Catholic figures who also reject female ordination and gay marriage, those issues aren’t mentioned. For Monson they were. That’s a difference. The difference implies a willingness to be negative in the lede towards Monson that wasn’t the case for other, more controversial, figures.

    The second, different, argument was best made by McKay Coppins. His point wasn’t about politeness or niceness in the lede. His argument was that in terms of objective reporting a figures main impact would be on their followers. The NYTs didn’t do that but only looked at Monson’s impact on the mostly secular NYTs readers. Again, not something it did for other figures including major Catholics.

    I’d add a final argument that no one here made, is that looking at NYT obituaries (not ledes) for past recent LDS leaders like Hinkley or Kimball. Even a more negative obituary, like they gave to Benson was far more nuanced.

    Again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t really think it’s a big deal. I honestly don’t expect the NYTs to give a positive take. I’m not even sure I agree with Coppins, in that I think they did get at internal issues like the opening of the archives, the essays on history, and changes in missionary service. Those are largely member facing acts. Indeed I think they spent a surprising amount of space on the lowering of the age for women’s missionary work. However Coppins is right that they didn’t explain why Monson was so beloved by the members. But even if I don’t ultimately agree with Coppins, I think he’s making an argument.

  40. Clark, my point is that YOU are reading the Monson lede as negative. Do you not support the church’s stance? Did not those issues define his tenure in both the public articles and the bloggernacle? Why is the lede negative. This no one has clarified for me. There is nothing inherently negative about it. Unless you disagree that with him doing those things. Maybe you do. Also, on Castro, you seem to think that defying the US is positive? I didn’t take you as the anti-US type. THAT is my point. Your second and third sentences reveal everything. As does you statement that you ‘don’t expect . . . a positive take’ from the NYT. THAT is my point. This is not about the lede. It’s about 1) the NYT and/or 2) membership who don’t read the church’s position on gender issues either as a) positive and/or b) as not significant during his tenure: a) first reveals the status of current members in regard to the issues, b) deals with your point on Coppins; again, I don’t really see an argument, as I’ve stated, offering the evidence of the very significant effect of those issues on members; finally 1) demonstrates confirmation bias. From your own comments, you seem to exhibit both 1) and 2a–as you see the statement as negative.

  41. Whether I agree or disagree with the stance, it’s focusing on the controversial above everything else.

  42. Whether I agree or disagree with the stance, it’s focusing on the most prominent aspect of his tenure as it effected both the membership and the public.

  43. Right Brian, but they didn’t do that for most other figures. Whether or not you agree with that argument, it is a fairly clear and concise argument.

  44. We’ll have to agree to disagree, Clark. Face value, removed, I don’t see the argument as clear. Concise, sure. Holding weight, hardly–not even worth a blip of a response.

    For instance, you’re arguing that the most prominent aspect of Castro’s tenure wasn’t his defiance of the US or that of Hefner wasn’t his establishment of the Playboy? In few short words, those seem accurate. Those people will most be known for those things. I think what you’re saying is that you aren’t comfortable with this particular focus on Monson’s tenure. That’s fine. But doesn’t make change the fact that gender issues have been the defining issues for the during his tenure in both the public sphere (really, do we need to argue about that?) and also, perhaps arguable, in relation to the church membership. Ask nearly anyone who isn’t a member of this Church what they recall from the years of the Monson tenure and they will tell you things like Prop 8. To argue some double-standard is going on doesn’t seem to hold water at all.

  45. To clarify, when I wrote “I think what you’re saying is that you aren’t comfortable with this particular focus on Monson’s tenure,” It should say “I think what you’re saying is that [the people making that argument] aren’t comfortable with this particular focus on Monson’s tenure.” It’s difficult for me to tell how much you buy into the argument, though previous comments on this suggest you do.

  46. I knew Thomas Monson. He was a great soul. I don’t think he would give a second thought about this obituary. He did worry about his haircut and was a touch vain about his hair when younger. He always liked it slicked down. But the folks signing the petition are whiners. Yet another exMple of snowflake Mormonism. Our ancestors would be embarrassed.

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