There are things most of us instinctively understand do not belong in appreciations written about people who have recently passed away, assuming we are remembering them as a positive influence in the world. So will somebody please smack Stephen Andrew Hiltner who wrote Fact Checking Ray Bradbury for The Paris Review Daily?
Then came my first real assignment: We were running an interview with Ray Bradbury, and it needed fact-checking. I volunteered.
Ray Bradbury was, by then, eighty-nine years old. He’d had a stroke in 1999, and it showed in the interview manuscript: he misremembered dates, names, years; he attributed books to the wrong authors; the quotes he offered from memory—I remember one in particular from Moby-Dick—were nine-tenths invention. It made for a lot of work.
In the first place, if The Paris Review required precision it should not have been interviewing an 89-year-old stroke victim. Shouldn’t the whole point of the encounter have been to hear from one of our great fantasists? Might as well fact-check Buffalo Bill, Cool Papa Bell or Parson Weems. As the newspaper editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
In the second place, Mr. Hiltner, so what if you fact-checked that forgetful old man? We do not need to hear from you. Did you cash your check? Then shut up about it. Don’t gravy-train that pathetic assignment into another paycheck from The Paris Review for God’s sake.