IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — More than 150,000 people have rallied together in signing a petition demanding the New York Times rewrite it’s recent obituary following the death of the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson.
“Instead of highlighting the positive aspects of his life, or a neutral statement about the facts of his life, they decided to attack and disparage his character and used his obituary as a political statement against him and the Church as a whole and tweeted a click-bait headline to attack even further,” Nathan Cunningham, the petition’s author, wrote. “We recognize that all people, including the New York Times and its authors, have the right to free speech and free press. However, an obituary should not be used as a political platform.”
The petition originally asked for 10,000 signatures, but within 24 hours the number of names continued to flow in. As of Tuesday, January 9, the petition was asking for 200,000 signatures.
“I am seriously amazed at the outpouring of support we have seen,” Cunningham wrote in an update to the petition. “In less than a day, we’ve gone from my small group of Facebook friends (~30 people) to over 30,000. It will only continue growing and the New York Times will have to notice,”
In fact, the New York Times did notice.
Many readers reacted strongly to our obituary for Thomas Monson, who had been the head of the Mormon Church. Our obits editor responds to their feedback and questions. https://t.co/4XEGAmXmwN
— NYT Reader Center (@readercenter) January 8, 2018
“In hundreds of messages to The New York Times and dozens of comments on the obituary, readers, including many Mormons, wrote that the obituary focused too narrowly on the politics and controversies of the Mormon Church and overlooked Mr. Monson’s contributions to the community,” Robert D. McFadden, the obituary editor and author of the original article said.
In a response to the backlash his obituary seems to have caused, McFadden outlined some of the concerns and complaints he’d received in the days following his article, including the focus on the more controversial issues Monson was involved in, the article’s use of “Mr.” instead of “President” when addressing Monson throughout the article and a lack of the feelings many Mormon readers had for the former prophet.
“I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure. 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,” McFadden said.
McFadden also acknowledged the newspaper reached out to church representatives and scholars, in addition to the Times’s chief religion correspondent when writing the article.
Still, the signatures continue to flow in by the second and Cunningham says he is happy he launched the effort.
“My wife and I started this petition because we felt like something needed to be said,” Cunningham said. “With the overwhelming support we’ve received, we are happy that we said it.”