This happened about six months ago. I have tried to forget it. So much for forgetting.
A famous person was killed. Within the hour, people who knew dead famous person (D.F.P.) began circulating the news and posting emotional reactions on the Internet.
One of those posts was by a less famous, high profile journalist who almost immediately published an astoundingly scathing portrait of D.F.P.
D.F.P., he argued, was – in his relationships with other still-alive famous persons — mean-spirited, arrogant, dishonest, and even cruel. Those who only knew of D.F.P.’s public contributions and admirable body of work (like me) were stunned. This wasn’t Pol Pot, but was someone who very well might have been a jerk.
The story would have ended there, were it not for the anger I began to feel for the speed with which the critical piece appeared. D.F.P.’s funeral had not yet taken place, and many friends and admirers were still coming to terms with a tragic death.
So I called journalist, and asked:
“Is there any case to be made for a “grace period,” however short, between a death and the publication of a scathing personal portrait, particularly when the scathing stuff is primarily inside information?”
“Might D.F.P.’s family and friends deserve even a day or two before nuanced and critical portraits became absolutely acceptable?”
“Or has the era of blunt and instant information made it old-fashioned or impractical to temporarily hold fire out of respect for a family’s feelings?”
Journalist’s answer still chills me.
“Sorry, but I don’t buy into false sentimentalism. I wrote the truth. Period.”
I really couldn’t respond. I still can’t.
What can you say to someone who sees even temporary consideration of a family’s feelings to be nothing more than “false sentimentalism?”