Newspaper apologizes for refusing to run obit with anti-Trump line

The obituaries editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal was just looking out for the danger posed to the nation by a dead 87-year-old woman who didn’t much care for the person who is president of the United States.

The family of Frances Irene Finley, who died in November, paid $1,684 for the death notice that mentioned her passing was hastened by her angst over the direction of the nation.

The newspaper refused to run the obit unless the passage was removed, which it was. Now the paper is apologizing, which is — literally — cold comfort.

The paper didn’t come by its conscience honestly. It wasn’t until Frances’ son, Art Williams, posted his complaint on Facebook earlier this month that the family got any attention from the the Courier-Journal.

I want to thank the nearly 80 friends on here who posted such supportive comments–and the well over 100 who reacted…

Posted by Art Williams on Sunday, January 13, 2019

“My mom would have been offended — and I hope you are too,” he wrote in the earlier post of the newspaper’s disinterest in free speech.

“Mrs. Williams’ obituary should have published as it was presented to our obits team and as requested by the family,” Richard Green, the Courier Journal’s editor, told a columnist at his paper.

“In this political climate we now find ourselves, partisanship should have no role in deciding what gets included in an obituary that captures a loved one’s life — especially one as amazing as what Mrs. Williams led. I’m certain she is missed greatly by those who loved her. We send the family our deepest condolences and apologies.”

There’s no mention of whether the paper is also sending the family $1,684, though there’s no indication that matters much.

“We think she would have been, as we used to say, ‘tickled pink’ by this all,” daughter Catherine Duff tells NBC News. “In her opinion, anything that got people talking about how they feel about Trump would have been a good thing.”

The paper published the correct obit three times this week:

Frances (Fran) Irene Finley Williams, 87, passed away peacefully at home on November 21, 2018. Fran was born in Cookeville, TN, on November 30, 1930, to the late Frank Lee Finley and Myrtle Ann (Deck) Finley. She married the love of her life, Bruce H. Williams, who survives her, on May 29th, 1949, and was a wonderful mother to Arthur (Art) Lee Williams (Noel Rueff) and Catherine (Cathy) Ann Williams Duff, who also survive her.

She adored her five grandchildren, Sydne (Stone) Goodier (Dan), Benjamin Rueff Williams (Sarah), Caroline (Stone) Waldner (Mitch), Emily Claire Williams (Charlie, June, 2019) and Laura (Stone) Cole (Jeremy), and her eight great grandchildren, William Chase Goodier, Blake Stone Goodier, Claire Isabel Goodier, Lucy Ann Waldner, Rosemary Catherine Cole, Cullen Rueff Williams, Bruce Michael Waldner, and Vivienne Frances Cole, who all survive her. Her sisters, Eunetta (Finley) Jenkins and Ann (Finley) Fields also survive her.

Fran was a member of the Keystone Sunday School Class at St. Matthews United Methodist Church, a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an avid bridge player who always played to win, a passionate Democrat, a lover of dancing, fashion, babies, flowers, birds, dogs and cats, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, and did not suffer fools gladly.

She was a die hard Louisville fan, loved thoroughbred racing and the occasional side bet, was a voracious reader, had an amazing memory and a passion to know everything about everything, all the time. She lovingly made and displayed dozens of photo albums, capturing the history of her family, who all called her Nana. Her passing was hastened by her continued frustration with the Trump administration.

Visitation and a memorial service were held at St. Matthews United Methodist Church on Friday, December 28th, 2018, with visitation from 10:00 AM -12:00 PM in the Upper Colonnade, with the service immediately following at 12:00 PM in the sanctuary. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to the , or the Fecal Transplant Foundation. Please note that Frances requested and the family honored the following dress code for both the visitation and service: no blue jeans, shorts, flip flops or tennis shoes. Frances will be forever loved, missed, and remembered by those who loved her.

The newspaper’s columnist says obit editors have been clamping down on content since a blistering obit last year in the Redwood Falls Gazette.

(h/t: Chris Graves)

  • kevins

    After reading the full obit, it seems silly for the paper not to publish it in the first place.

    • Sonny T

      I think papers have to draw the line. Even though this is mild, almost miss-able, it opens the door.

      • Good luck defining the line.

        • Gary F

          I bet they didn’t publish many anti-Pres Obama ones.

          • Sonny T

            Ha!

            That’s why you don’t open the door.

          • There’s only one way not to open the door without drawing a line: no obits.

          • Sonny T

            I’m confused. Do you support the editor’s exclusion of political statements, or not?

          • No need for confusion. I’m pointing out that what you think is a simple solution — drawing a line — is probably THE most complex and complicated thing there is.

            Keep in mind that obits are paid advertising. Just like Hobby Lobby’s religious lectures in their advertising area. I’m unaware of any newspaper sending it back to have the controversial stuff pulled out.

            I’m on record as believing that obituaries should not be sanitized.

          • Sonny T

            No one said being an editor is easy. Neither is being an ump. But someone has to call ’em.

          • They do call them. And sometimes they get it wrong, as in this case.

            It’s actually a pretty easy call.

          • RBHolb

            Of course not. The liberal media picks on conservatives even when they’re gone. George Soros demands it.

            [shakes head sadly]

          • kevins

            Hah!

          • kevins

            Were there any?

          • If they were submitted, I’ll TOTALLY take that bet.

      • RBHolb

        You’re either going to let people (or their loved ones) decide how they want to be remembered, or you’re not.

        • Sonny T

          No profanity. No racism. No grudge-settling. No politics.

          Don’t like it? Find another paper. I’m the umpire, i.e. the editor. Not you.

          • So if someone were a politician and died, would you require they’re family delete all the political content in their obit. Would you have pulled out that she was a life long Democrat?

            Sounds simple for people who aren’t journalists, but — as I said — drawing the line is the most complicate part of the business.

            Obituaries are FINALLY coming around to being a documentation of a person’s life AND personality. There are still plenty of o bits out there that are nothing more than a recitation of awards won in the world of business.

            By the way, you’d make a lousy editor. The job of the editor isn’t to dictate content. The job of the editor is to make sure the content is accurate and worthy. In this case, the Gannett editor exceeded the mission. The family, paying for the obit, gets to decide what is worthy. The editor gets to determine whether it is accurate.

            In agreeing to re-run the obit, the paper has quite obviously determined that its editor did a poor job and made the obituary LESS accurate by playing the part of guardian of content.

            That’s not how it works.

          • Sonny T

            Bob, I respectfully disagree with just about everything you state above. Especially the part about me being a lousy editor 🙂

            Since I disagree with everything, let’s pick the biggest: “The family, paying for the obit, gets to decide what is worthy.”

            No they don’t. They can’t. You’d have chaos. But mostly it would be grossly disrespectful to the others. I am for respect. Always.

          • That’s fine if you disagree. But one of us has been an editor for 40 years.

            I feel pretty good about having first-hand knowledge of the mission, craft, challenges and issues of editing.

            I understand it looks simple to folks who think they have the expertise, but that’s only because we’re so good at what we do.

          • Sonny T

            Respectfully, you are deploying the Appeal to Authority fallacy. I’d prefer you address the argument. What’s wrong with my reasoning?

          • It’s based on a lack of knowledge. I’m not your authority. I’m just more knowledgeable about the real life situation and reality than you do.

          • Sonny T

            Ah, the old Ad hominem fallacy. Again., let’s stay with the argument.

            But again you’re busy Bob and it is Friday. We don’t have to continue, as pleasant as it’s been. And it is, I am flattered that my posts are being considered by you and the others and when addressed, addressed. Always.

          • Well, I don’t know what to tell you. You can create all the syndromes for it you wish but it’s only logic to acknowledge that someone who does a job and has intimate knowledge of the process and issues and complexities and nuances and, yes, unintended consequences that surround that job, are going to have a more informed perspective on it and proposed solutions to its problems than someone who does not.

            I would not, for example, propose that I come from a position of anything but utter guesswork in suggesting the solutions that may or may not plague your systems, for example, so I’m more likely to defer to the knowledge that you have of it. I would imagine that they would sound quite silly.

            I don’t have a fancy scientific name offhand for dismissing that point other than the Arc of What’s This Button Do or the Thorem of Knowing What I’m Talking About.

          • Sonny T

            You’re the man Bob. And I in no way meant disrespect.

            Although I’d watch that authority thing, or you’re too dumb to have your argument considered thing. Once we spent an afternoon fixing some wreck. We kept driving it around the block, and couldn’t figure it out.

            A neighbor walked by. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

            “It keeps pulling to the left. We’ve tried everything.”

            “Is the emergency brake on?”

            Oops.

          • I’ll have to get back to you. I’m on the phone with the jet propulsion laboratory giving them some ideas, right now.

          • Postal Customer

            “You’d have chaos”

            There went your argument.

          • Sonny T

            You want the obit page to descend into a series of political rants? I could see it happening. Easily.

          • Folks are pretty protective of their loved one’s legacies in obits and have proven themselves overall to be judicious in the inclusion of content.

          • Rob

            That’s called paranoia. But if you want to develop an app that spots and collates obits that contain political rants – and then share the results with the News Cut audience, knock yourself out.

          • Sonny T

            Maybe. But if we don’t protect our values we are likely to lose them.

          • Jay T. Berken

            Who is “our” that needs their values to be protected?

          • Sonny T

            The community’s.

          • Jay T. Berken

            You didn’t answer my question.

          • Sonny T

            ? Our community’s. Do I need to rephrase this?

          • RBHolb

            “Decedent was a staunch patriot who believed firmly in the Constitution and worked tirelessly for civil liberties and equal rights for all.”

            Political?

          • Sonny T

            An umpire, I mean an editor has to call balls and strikes.

            “Couldn’t wait for the scumbag to leave office.” –Ball.

            “Felt passionately the current administration was misguided.” –Ball.

            “Decedent was a staunch patriot who believed…” This is well-written, RBHolb. Cleverly written. A true test for any editor. The “decedent” might fall anywhere on the political spectrum. Still, it has political words. And yet you could hardly imagine anyone taking offense. A tough one to call. Like a hard slider that just touched the corner…

            Strike!

      • kevins

        Having written one for my son, I can appreciate how powerful words are, but sometimes the last word belongs to the dead.

      • Rob

        Mild is an understatement. Why the editor choose to excise it is a head-scratcher.

        • Sonny T

          It’s political, no mater how mild. They almost snuck it in, but the editor, astutely, caught it.

          • “astutely”

            He or she was so “astute” that the editor in chief apologized and said it was wrong.

            c’mon, man.

          • Sonny T

            He was right the first time. That’s my point.

          • Laurie K.

            Then why wouldn’t he or she stay “right”?

          • Sonny T

            I can think of a few reasons. Pressure. Fear. Money. Position. Fatigue. I could go on.

          • Sonny T

            Uncertainty.

          • Laurie K.

            Or he realized he was wrong and that “partisanship should have no role in deciding what gets included in an obituary that captures a loved one’s life…”

          • Sonny T

            Are we misunderstanding each other? “partisanship should have no role in deciding what gets included in an obituary that captures a loved one’s life…” That’s my point.

          • Laurie K.

            Did you even read the blog? If not, do so. In particular, follow the link to the editor’s apology. It’s exhausting trying to have a conversation with someone who has not even read the blog that he is commenting on.

          • Sonny T

            That editor is contradicting himself. The statement we are quoting is nonsensical. If you would like to clarify it, or produce a version that makes sense, we can continue.

          • Laurie K.

            Apparently you are the only one that the statement does not make sense to – I am not sure how my paraphrasing it for you is going to help you out.

          • Sonny T

            Well, thanks for engaging.

          • Nope. Different editors. He/she got overruled by more senior editor, presumably one who better understands why the junior editor was wrong.

      • lindblomeagles

        Maybe I’m missing something Sonny, but if you don’t like obits with political content, you don’t have to read them. That’s what makes America great. For instance, I don’t like anything Ann Coulter says or writes. My solution? Don’t read her books, visit any channel she’s on, or attend any rally or forum where she’s speaking at. Last, I think the point of referencing Trump in the obit was to describe the last days of her life. In other words, she died while grousing about Trump.

        • Sonny T

          Hmm… Ball.

          Let’s not open the door. What if a really gross tribute to Trump appeared above or beside the obit of a loved one? Long and smarmy. You wouldn’t like it. I wouldn’t either.

          • Then it wouldn’t be an obit. It would be a letter to the editor a political ad.

            But your hypothetical reveals the problem with the “no politics” for a problem. is a problem because it puts BOTH this woman’s innocent and tame obit and a single sentence which more than conveyed the woman’s personality and life with a political and probably outrageous screed.

            That’s what editors make the big bucks; to be able to discern the difference.

            Blanket bans of content and categories is simply lazy.

            I get that you don’t like mentions of politics in obits and there’s nothing wrong with that. You simply turn the page.

          • Sonny T

            Balls and strikes Bob.

            Do you thinks we should have a fuzzy strike zone? It would certainly get the fans jazzed up… Not sure I want the same on the In Memorium page

          • The baseball metaphors are distracting. The obits are fine. It’ll be OK. Editors are standing by and they know what they’re doing. If the slip up, managing editors can step in. That’s their job and they’re doing just fine.

  • Barton

    $1,600 for an obit? Hokey smokes.

    Truly, obits are advertising and should be treated as such if they are going to cost this much. Thus no editing the copy you have been brought for content/sentiment.

  • Rob

    GTK the paper decided to run the original obit.