The New York Times burnished its reputation for hostility toward religion with a crass tweet that denigrated the American family of Mormons, massacred by a drug cartel in Mexico, as they were traveling in an SUV caravan on Monday. Six children and three women were killed.
The Times tweeted the story out on Tuesday afternoon with negative connotations of the women and children victims:
The brutal killing of 9 members of an American family in northern Mexico on Monday highlights the long history of religious fundamentalist settlers in the region. Our religion reporter, Elizabeth Dias, details their history back to the early 20th century.
The initial online headline deck was also hostile: “Murder in Mexico: Mormon Families Have a Long History There — Fundamentalist religious communities have a long history in northern Mexico, dating back to settlers who practiced polygamy.”
Reaction to the Times’s Twitter post was withering. The eventual print version of the story (credited not just to Dias but to reporters Simon Romero, Julie Turkewitz, and Mike Baker) dialed back on the hostility: “‘Colonies of Refuge’: A History of Mormon Settlers on Southern Border.”
The online headline deck was also softer, without negative connotations: “‘Innocence Is Shattered:’ A Storied Mormon Family Reels After Mexico Murders — Fundamentalist groups that split from the Mormon church have for years navigated life amid the drug war in northern Mexico.”
After a heart-wrenching anecdote about how family members in the United States learned about the massacre, the Times mostly held off on the callousness shown in its initial tweet-out of the story (click “expand”):
The extended family struck by Monday’s violence has long roots in the broader community of fundamentalist Mormons who first took up residence in Mexico’s northern border regions in the late 19th century.
Initially, the family’s patriarch was part of a wave of religious rebels who headed south to practice polygamy, once it was banned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today, with descendants scattered across the American West, those living in La Mora are successful pecan, chile, alfalfa and pomegranate farmers, raising children who have dual American and Mexican citizenship. Only a few still practice plural marriage, but they continue to live as an observant religious community deep in some of Mexico’s most turbulent borderlands.
But the paper couldn’t completely let go of the snide commentary, even in the wake of a massacre:
Mr. Staddon said he had always been surprised at the contrast between the large homes that the Americans and their descendants had built in northern Mexico, and the poverty that surrounded them.
The American families got along well with their neighbors, he said. But the families’ location in the path of Mexico’s gun violence has cost them dearly in the past: Two family members were kidnapped and murdered by people believed to be drug cartel members in 2009.