How should we speak of the dead?
A Montreal website put the question to me last week:
Journalist David Frum faced this dilemma when he wrote about American publisher Andrew Breitbart, who died on March 1, 2012. In an article in the Daily Beast, Frum wrote, “To speak only ‘good’ of Andrew Breitbart would be to miss the story and indeed to misunderstand the man.” While Frum outlined many of his subject’s positive traits, he also spoke of the “poisonous” impact the man’s actions had on American media and politics.
In an interview with OpenFile, Frum said he considered very hard how to speak about Breitbart. “When you write about someone who has recently died, you must be conscious that among those who will read it are people who are grieving,” he said. “You must never lose sight of that fact.”
He believes that mockery, disparagement, or airing personal grudges are never appropriate. The challenge, he said, is when discussing the public record of someone in public life. For example, if you’re talking about a CEO whose mismanagement drove a company to bankruptcy, or a general whose mistake caused the loss of an important battle, the truth has to be acknowledged.
“At the hour of death, we want to do justice,” said Frum. “Most people’s record is mixed.”