Heather du Plessis-Allan: Is there a right time to speak ill of the dead?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 Jan 2020, 4:20PM

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Is there a right time to speak ill of the dead?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 Jan 2020, 4:20PM

There’s been quite a bit of debate today about when is too soon to talk ill of the dead.

This is in the wake of American basketball star Kobe Bryant’s death yesterday. 

Bryant is a complicated character. He’s a sporting hero, he’s a cultural icon, he’s a dad, and a husband. But he was also once accused of rape.

17 years ago when he was 25, he was accused of forcing himself on a hotel worker. She accused him, then withdrew the complaint. He settled with her financially and then publicly acknowledged that she hadn’t considered the encounter consensual.

Yesterday, when he died, that was the thing a Washington Reporter wanted to point out about him. While others were gushing over him, she posted a link to an article reminding people of the historic allegations.

It didn’t go down well, and she’s now been stood down from her job at the Washington Post for apparently breaching social media policy - but of course, you decide if you believe that explanation.

This is a tricky subject. We should acknowledge that there’s a family mourning Kobe Bryant’s death, so her tweet could seem insensitive.  But the fact is, this happened: he was accused of these allegations and he settled those allegations privately and financially.

There’s no point in pretending it didn’t happen. We can’t have a rule saying we’re only allowed to say the nice things about someone’s life for the first 24 hours.

In those kinds of circumstances, what on earth would we say about someone like Rolf Harris? Yes, I get one has been found guilty and the other one not. But the fact is, the allegations are a matter of historical record. Pretending it didn’t happen is a form of censorship.

Now, personally, I wouldn’t have raised it yesterday. It wasn’t the most important thing about Kobe Bryant’s life, in my opinion. But for this reporter, it obviously was. Maybe Me Too is a thing she’s interested in.

Whatever the reason, if it happened, she’s entitled to point it out. Her losing her job is a disproportionate punishment, and unfortunately feels yet another example of shutting down a speaker who’s saying something people don’t like.

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