How soon is “too soon” to speak ill of the dead?

OpenFile Montreal, April 20, 2012 (site no longer active) A short while ago OpenFile published a blog post about a journalism professor who died. Following the article, a number of people posted comments remembering him fondly and praising him as a teacher. But then, a few people began posting some very negative comments. This and other recent events — such as jokes that began to circulate soon after Whitney Houston’s death — got OpenFile thinking about “how soon is too soon?” to speak ill of the dead. It also raises the question of whether social media has changed the way people react to and deal with death. 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...