This week The New York Times faced an unnecessary communications crisis. The paper published the obituary of a prominent world religious leader, President Thomas S. Monson, prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons. The LDS church has nearly 16 million members globally, and has faced some controversy of its own over the last several decades.
Yet, the Mormons are also known worldwide for their generous giving of time and assets for humanitarian relief and disasters around the world. They often are the first into such locations even before charities like the Red Cross.
When President Monson died the first week of January, The New York Times printed an obituary in which they chose to begin it by talking about how he was "Facing vociferous demands to recognize same-sex marriage, and weathering demonstrations at church headquarters by Mormon women pleading for the right to be ordained as priests, Mr. Monson did not bend.
Teachings holding homosexuality to be immoral, bans on sexual intercourse outside male-female marriages, and an all-male priesthood would remain unaltered." Of note, the LDS church actually has bans on sexual intercourse outside marriage (of any kind).
Social media and blogs exploded almost immediately. Several reports compared the latest obituary to previous ones posted by the Times when world leaders died. For example, upon the death of Fidel Castro, his obituary began "Viva la Revolucion! Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died on Friday. He was 90."
Whereas the Monson obituary was not untruthful, it was mainly negatively biased. Castro’s chose to continue in the vein of all the medical advances that were made during his regime. It wasn’t just the Mormons who objected to this liberal bias from the Times.
At last count, more than 160,000 people signed a petition requesting an apology and rewrite of the obituary, showing a little more respect for a man loved by his people; a man who spent his entire life in service to others — both privately and publicly.
And at the very least, a man who was the leader of so many people worldwide deserved the respect of being called something other than Mr. Monson — that would be kind of like calling the Pope, Mr. Francis.
The Times response so far has simply been that they maybe could have said things better than they did, but that they don’t have any plans to change things. Will that be enough?
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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