On Getting It Right

David Kahn, May 2012

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To the Editor:

In her otherwise good article on newspaperpeople and historians ("'Getting It Right' at Chicago," Perspectives on History, February 2012), Marian J. Barber reports that Lillian Hellman sued Mary McCarthy for saying on television that "Everything she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" But she [Barber] never reports the outcome of the case. She should have done that. It amounts to accusing somebody without allowing him or her to reply. No editor would allow a reporter to get away with that. Historians should be as careful.

—David Kahn
Great Neck, NY

Editor's Note: Marian Barber acknowledges that she should have mentioned that the case was never resolved as Lillian Hellman died while the litigation was in progress, and the executors of her estate decided not to continue the case. It is worth noting also that Marian Barber was merely reporting on what was said by a speaker at an annual meeting session, and not the case itself. Still, we agree that historians should be as careful in their own reporting as news media reporters are required to be!