A Short Primer In How to Handle the Deaths of Public Figures

Win Mcnamee/PoolPrensa via ZUMA

It is times like this that make me hate social media more than usual. However, better to light a candle than curse the darkness, right? So here’s how the ordinary world works, folks:

  • When someone dies who is not Idi Amin or Adolph Hitler, it is customary in public venues to be at least minimally respectful toward their memory—or to shut up and say nothing—for a few days.
  • This is because their family and friends are in mourning, and they deserve a bit of time for their grief.
  • Obituaries will generally mention all aspects of a person’s life, good and bad, and this has been the case with George H.W. Bush. However, the fact that an obituary is not sufficiently savage on a particular point that especially irks you is not a good excuse to write a 50-part tweetstorm educating all the rest of us.
  • Just generally, being critical upon someone’s death is OK. Really! Being brutal generally isn’t.
  • After a few days or a week, feel free to say anything you want.

That’s about it. Easy, isn’t it? This is considered common courtesy, and does not mean that (a) nobody is ever allowed to say anything bad about the establishment, or (b) everyone has forgotten what a bad person this was. It just means that out of respect for a grieving family, we lower the howitzers for a few days.

I hope this primer has been helpful for those of you who need it.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

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