I am sorry we have lost William Safire to that anomaly “historical novelist” (December 1987). When Safire says that he can “reveal more of the truth by using fiction,” he has convinced only himself. Apparently “truth” is what Safire thinks it is and. therefore, it is mere editorial opinion. As any editor knows, send five reporters out to cover the same story, and you will get five different versions.
Safire’s problem is exactly what he himself told Schlesinger: “If I thought of writing it [ Freedom ] as history, I was afraid I couldn’t make it come alive.”
So Safire leaves us to contemplate in all seriousness that neither journalism nor historical truth can “come alive” as flesh and blood. However, the only difference between a good journalist and a good historian is that the journalist tells it like it is, and the historian tells it like it was.
What we need in this country are more good historians who can empathize with people across the ages and more good novelists who know how to create, with the common knowledge that they are not the same.