What a Mean-Spirited Fox News Obituary for Kurt Vonnegut:

Allen Asch has the goods, in a video of his own. The transcript of the obituary is pretty telling:

The influential American author, Kurt Vonnegut has died at 84 after suffering brain injuries in a recent fall in his Manhattan home. Some of Vonnegut's books had, at times, been burned or banned. Correspondent James Rosen looks at Vonnegut's life and the impact of his work on the culture 20th century America.


KURT VONNEGUT, AMERICAN AUTHOR: I never thought I'd amount to a hill of beans.

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kurt Vonnegut probably wouldn't have wanted a classically structured obituary. His life's work, 14 novels, short stories, plays, essays, left-wing screed and random musings, was much too quirky, too filled with scatological humor, cosmic coincidences, and self-admitted sci-fi mumbo-jumbo for him to have enjoyed stately induction into the great pantheon of American writers. So here's the Cliffs Notes version.

VONNEGUT: I was born in 1922.

ROSEN: And he joined the Army in World War II. Taken prisoner in Germany, Vonnegut survived by pure chance the kind of indiscriminate stroke of fate he later made a career out of conjuring [--] the fire bombing of Dresden by allied planes, a hell-on-earth experience that flattened a city and killed 25,000 people. The horror of the war never left Vonnegut. It figured prominently in his books, most famously Slaughter House Five, which, like other of his works, made it to the big screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He drew explicit parallels between his experience in World War II, witnessing the destruction of the German city of Dresden by allied forces and the American involvement in Vietnam, and that's one of the reasons why it was so popular and it's also one of the reasons why it was a very, very radical book in it's time.

ROSEN: Vonnegut thought Richard Nixon was not evil, just mean. And that Ronald Reagan was old-fashioned, ignorant, prudential, and dangerous. Such views make Vonnegut a counter-cultural icon and ultimately propelled the author himself to the big screen.

VONNEGUT: Hi, I'm Kurt Vonnegut.

ROSEN: His early work in science fiction brought little acclaim until the publication in 1963 of Cat's Cradle a story of earth's direction that became a cult classic. By the late '70s Vonnegut was rich and irrelevant. The subject of other people's books, a sacred cow of the New York literary scene. He once said any New Yorker you've met once you get to call your friend. He then listed his New York friends and asked if anyone wanted an introduction.

VONNEGUT: American male writers have done their best work by the time they are 55 and then it's pretty junky after that...

ROSEN: But Vonnegut kept at it and persisted in his unique brand of despondent leftism.

VONNEGUT: The bad news is the that the Martians have landed in New York City and have checked in at the Waldorf. The good news is that they only eat homeless men, women and children of all colors and they pee gasoline.


ROSEN: Vonnegut, who failed at suicide 23 years ago, said 34 years ago that he hoped his children wouldn't say of him when he was gone "he made wonderful jokes, but he was such an unhappy man." So I'll say it for them.

Kurt Vonnegut was 84.

In Washington, James Rosen, FOX NEWS.


It may well be that Kurt Vonnegut would not have wanted a "classically structured obituary," but I doubt he wanted this. And regardless of what he wanted, can't we save the correspondent's derogatory literary and personal opinions -- "rich and irrelevant," "sacred cow," "such an unhappy man," "mumbo-jumbo" (whether self-admitted or not), and even the largely irrelevant and needlessly harshly framed facts of the "failed at suicide" variety -- for some other context?

I don't want to make a fetish out of "never speak ill of the dead." If someone is famous for genuinely evil things, it's hard to have a sensible obituary without mentioning them. If someone is famous for good or neutral things, but has nonetheless done something genuinely evil, one might feel some obligation to bear witness to the evil even in the obituary. I disapproved of Alan Dershowitz's condemnation of Chief Justice Rehnquist the day after he died, but at least those who had a very negative view of what Rehnquist did (as opposed to just the literary quality of what he wrote) could generally believe that the condemnation was necessary under the rubric I have just described.

But there seems no such justification when the dead person's chief sins are that he wrote novels that a journalist dislikes, or that he had more glory than the journalist deserves, or that he had a personal temperament that the journalist thinks pitiful. There is no misbehavior here that triggers any obligation of continued moral condemnation, no harsh but essential facts that require a newsman's regretful candor.

All that we have here is the ultimate defeat of death for the man, sad to contemplate even though (or perhaps precisely because) the same defeat will come for us all; the tragedy for his family and close friends; and the sadness for those who liked and respected him (in his case, rightly or wrongly, very many people). Our cultural tradition of a respectful suspension of criticism is a worthy attempt to acknowledge all this, and to restrain us from making a sad occasion more painful. It's too bad that Fox News has departed from this tradition here.