City Journal reviews a new bio of Ty Cobb, a great athlete whose posthumous rep has been thoroughly trashed in books, TV series and movies over the past 40 years. Author Charles Leerhsen’s careful research “could become a case study in sourcing information and vetting conventional wisdom. If commonly repeated facts can’t be substantiated, then their acceptance involves something other than scholarship.” Anybody who dabbles in writing (or rewriting) history, whether presented as fact or fiction, has an obligation to accurately represent the people and events chronicled.
Did Capt. Fetterman actually boast that with 80 men he could ride through the entire Sioux nation? Did Andrew Myrick contemptuously tell the Indians that if they were hungry they could eat grass? The latter quote is questionable, the former almost certainly invented post-mortem.
Legally you can’t libel the dead, but that certainly doesn’t negate our ethical and moral duty not to baselessly traduce their memories for profit or political advantage. In the end, a man’s name is all he leaves behind him, written in the sands of time.