LDS folks freaked out via a petition demanding that the New York Times apologize for "bias in reporting" in an obituary for Mormon President Thomas Monson.
The late Thomas S. Monson, photo: Brian Tibbets / CC BY-SA 3.0

Mormon’s petition demands New York Times apologize and rewrite LDS President Monson’s obituary

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” —John 8:32

Nevada resident Nathan Cunningham started a petition on demanding that the New York Times apologize for “bias in reporting” in Robert D. McFadden’s well-researched and factually accurate obituary published by the Times for the late Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Thomas J. Monson. The Mormon leader died at age 90 Jan. 2, which is incidentally the birthday of science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

The petition implies that the obituary is dishonest, yet it does not point out any false information presented in the obituary:

“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. …

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.

We are asking that the New York Times formally apologize for this bias in reporting and present an honest, neutral, and balanced obituary.”

Outraged Mormons signed the petition en masse and wrote to the New York Times, complaining that by their standards it did not sufficiently whitewash Monson’s behavior.

Like those of many religious zealots who are uncomfortable with basic facts or interpretations of reality that do not conform to their filter bubbles, the words and actions of Cunningham and his LDS comrades-in-arms suggest that they do not appear to understand the difference between attacking and disparaging one’s character and merely reporting the truth.

In a response to the outcry, the Times’ Lara Takenaga — presumably the obituaries editor — calmly stated the reasons why such demands were unwarranted:

“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. I think we did that, accurately portraying Mr. Monson’s positions as leader of the church, and those of the faithful and others who questioned church policies.

I think we also gave due credit to Mr. Monson’s achievements: his openness to new work by scholars of the church, ‘allowing them,’ as we said, ‘remarkable access to church records’; his expansion of the church’s global missionary force and his doubling the number of young women in the missionary ranks; and his embracing humanitarian causes, often in collaboration with Jewish, Muslim and other Christian groups.”

She explained later that in writing obituaries, the staff at The New York Times are “not in the business of paying tribute. We’re journalists first and foremost.”

This seems so clearly obvious that to have to state it explicitly feels silly. For all the shrieking over “fake news,” one would expect nothing short of objectivity from any journalist or news source.

After what I imagine was deemed to be a sufficient period of collective virtue signaling, Cunningham posted a cringeworthy declaration of victory, suggesting that he also does not understand what victory is, on his petition:

“At this time, we are declaring victory for this petition so that we can turn our minds toward President Thomas S Monson. Today and tomorrow are his viewing and funeral services.

We are declaring victory because nearly 200,000 people stood for what was right, news sources around the world shared our petition to millions of viewers, and all of us have honored him and respected his legacy in conversations on social media.”

He followed with, “You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished” … which in quantifiable terms is precisely nothing.

Cunningham’s reason for declaring what he erroneously referred to as victory was not because he accomplished his quite clearly-outlined goals for the petition — that the Times “formally apologize for this bias in reporting and present an honest, neutral, and balanced obituary” — but because 190,000 people got mad enough to push buttons on their laptops. That was the big accomplishment. Viva la revolución, Señor Cunningham!

Despite the petition’s specious claim to have been victorious in making “change,” the Times issued no such apology, nor did McFadden alter the obituary in any way — and nor should the Times have honored either demand.

Furthermore, he drew yet more negative attention at the national level to the LDS Church, which is the last thing the religion needs. I can’t see how giving Mormons another opportunity to broadcast themselves as irrational and out of touch on a prominent national platform did anything to help their public image.

Cunningham beseeched the teary-eyed throng to “flood the world with uplifting messages.”

So here’s a truly heartfelt uplifting message from me to you, Mr. Cunningham, as well as to the rest of the world.

Fortunately for all of us in the world, merely declaring that something is so can never make it so, be that a victory that one did not win or the veracity of science-fiction fairy tales the likes of which Isaac Asimov (or L. Ron Hubbard, for that matter) could only blandly imitate.

This is good news for anyone who lives under the tyranny of a group of people — be they Muslim, Hindu, or any other religion — who assert that reality is a certain way on no more evidence than the fact that it is convenient for them to believe it is so and contrary to evidence that dispels such a warped view of reality.

Fortunately for all of us in the world, claims that something spurious or imaginary is true despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary can never be made any more true by the repeated declarations no matter how many times it is repeated — regardless of Joseph Goebbels’ insistence.

Fortunately for all of us in the world, giving false (even if well-intended) testimony in support of religious fiction can never make it true no matter how many times the fiction is repeated or who nods their heads in agreement. Echo chambers can never alter the fabric of reality.

Fortunately for all of us in the world, any religion’s claims to the veracity of nonsensical historical narratives with no archaeological evidence in support and tremendous archaeological evidence against can never magically recreate the past to one’s liking.

And perhaps most uplifting of all for all of us in the world, no matter how deluded and blinded by ideology one has become, the truth — the real truth, not the lie you’ve convinced yourself is true — will still set you free.

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