The New York Times Thomas Monson Obituary and Fake News

The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently died, and the obituary published in the New York Times focused a lot of attention on controversies over same-sex marriage and ordaining women.  This obituary provides an unfortunate, yet clear example, of what goes through my head when I consider the term fake news.

The obituary is not fake in terms of being just a pack of lies.  I do not dispute that these controversies happened during Monson’s term.  The obituary is fake in that it is in disguise.  What it is, is political activism masquerading as journalism.

It would have been quite easy to publish a straight-forward, neutral obituary.  Instead, they used the opportunity of the death of a beloved religious leader to forward their political agenda.  Thus, if you were expecting objective and unbiased media coverage, you are getting something that is fake.

I don’t really need the New York Times, or other media sources, to tell me what to believe, or how to behave.  I have chosen to follow who I believe to be prophets and apostles for that.  I lost a prophet recently, but in short order, another one will be called.  And I can tell you this much, I will be paying much more attention to him, than I will the New York Times.

6 Responses to “The New York Times Thomas Monson Obituary and Fake News”


  1. 1 Chris Henrichsen January 12, 2018 at 12:52 am

    Fake news? What about it was fake? Oh, you mean it is the way that Pres, Trump uses it. If you don’t like it, it is fake. Yeah, and you accuse us liberals of being relativists.

    To be honest, the feverish reaction to it has made Mormons seem psycho. We are not a cult…despite the best efforts of our members to make us appear as a cult,

  2. 2 Eric Nielson January 12, 2018 at 7:13 am

    It was fake in that it was agenda driven spin.

    No, there would be several examples of what I would like even though it was fake in the same way. And I would hopefully acknowledge the fakery. I think many like stuff that is spun in our preferred direction. But we seem to need some neutrality, and such sources appear to be harder to come by.

    While many folks are relativists I am not sure what that has to do with anything. The AP and Washington Post pulled it off far more appropriately this time. Just because the NY Times was not up to the task does not mean there is a relativist problem with their audience. Other than the NY Times piece was relatively poor.

    Not sure that my feelings are all that feverish, some reactions probably are, but it also may be in the eye of the beholder. And in general, calling out poor reporting when we see it should not be seen as particularly cult-like.

  3. 4 Matt W. January 14, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    Eric: Not sure I should react here, as I’ve not read the NYT obituary. I did read David Holland’s article in the journal of Harvard Divinity School which address much of the same topics in its discussion of Monson. How would you navigate those two? Is it a matter of tone? Balance?

  4. 5 Eric Nielson January 14, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    I have not read Holland’s article. Was it an obituary? I think not, and I am assuming it was not. For me, the problem was the occasion. If you want to write an article about Mormonism, Feminism, and Same-Sex Marriage then knock yourself out. But to me, an obituary is not the time or place. This is what made it seem like opportunism. For me it seems like the NYT cannot turn off the spin even for an obituary.

    So to sort of restate, The balance is so out of wack, that they do not have enough decency left to be neutral even for an obituary.

  5. 6 Eric Nielson January 15, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    I have now read the Holland article. If it is the one you were referring to, it was a question and answer piece. This was no obituary, it was asking a scholar about his take on Monson and the next steps in the process. This does reinforce, that for me, it was to context of an obituary which made the difference.


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