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

Win Mcnamee/PoolPrensa via ZUMA

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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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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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