A fallacious sort of respect attaches to the dead in
our culture: don't speak evil about the dead.
Based on notions of fair play, the idea is that
the dead cannot defend themselves against
scurrilous attacks. But there are exceptions
to almost everything; compelling reasons do
exist to point out less than perfect behavior while
certain famous folk, now departed, are extolled
without a balanced critique.
Billy Graham, said to be America's preferred
preacher, died recently amid public praise.
Not one of the media outlets I checked dared
to include the unhappy fact that Mr. Graham
was an unrepentant anti-Semite--unrepentant
and dishonest until audio tapes revealed the
Rev's disdain for Jews. In 2002 The National
Archives released tapes of conversations
Reverend Billy had in 1972 with then President
Nixon, also an anti-Semite. Rumors of
such un-Christian attitudes circulated for
years regarding Graham, who stoutly and
steadily denied them until the Archives
published the damning tapes, whereupon
Rev BG profusely apologized.
Then there was Mr. Rogers, friend to
children and normal middle-class values.
My daughter and I enjoyed his show for
years, thinking he really did love children,
loved to be surrounded by them. In 1990
I worked for La Leche League, the mothers'
group promoting breast feeding. One day
my boss told me a surprising story: at an
event sponsored by the League, Mr. Rogers
asked that the children be kept away from
him...what? They had come to interact with
their "friend", Mr. Rogers. But thinking back,
Mr. Roger's Neighborhood did not usually
feature a goodly group of kids, no, just
puppets and grownups.
Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, observed that
the good men do often gets interred with
their bones. I submit that, all too often,
the bad they do is buried there as well.
All the admiration for the public face
of the man (or woman) can't whitewash
any dark side...
Reputation vs. reality, often at odds.