Introduction to the historical background

There had been no criticism about the American Ground. Beginning in June 2002, the promotional hype from Atlanthic Monthly and Farrar, Straus and Giroux landed sparkling praise for William Langewiesche’s Ground Zero tale in book reviews and press reports. The public controversy, that involved questioning Langewiesche’s factual accuracy, first began when the October 24 issue of New York Observer hit newsstands on Oct. 16, 2002. The Observer writer, Joe Hagan, led the first wave of, what became the ongoing press reactions regarding our document –WTC Living History Project Group Response, Part I, II, III–that noted 56 corrective points about William Langewiesche’s magazine version of American Ground.

Hagan’s article broke the story about both the WTC Living History Project’s existence and the content of our study that had been sent to both Atlantic Monthly and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Slate writer, Timothy Noah, quickly weighed in the next day (Oct. 17, 2002) and New York Post writer Bob McManus roared back the next day (Oct. 18, 2002) both with immediate lashes of criticism against our, well, criticism of Langewiesche. We have discovered, however, since that time that pertinent disclosures, such as the fact that Cullen Murphy was a regular writer for Slate (1996-1999) as well as being the Atlantic Monthly’s managing editor, should have been made public by Noah. How could Noah confidently and accurately fact-check our fact-checking within 24 hours or less seems? Just on the face of it, such an impulsive and protective reaction would seem more based on blind faith and loyalty to Murphy, than any rigorous journalist practices done by Noah.

We have added numbers (Dec. 9, 2003) to each point below. This numbering system should help readers to address Noah’s specific charge that he could only “glean” “precisely six” legitimate”errors” in Langewiesche’s book after “factoring out rants, misreading and disagreements of interpretation.” See if your count matches Noah’s count of only six errors. Read Part I, II, III below. You can always let Noah know if you think his count is, as he would say, “utterly cracked.”

Click here for Noah’s article from Slate. Many more salient facts from diligent research can be found presently on the rest of the Web site and more is forthcoming in our Website redesign (tentatively scheduled for January 2004). Write us with your comments.

Authors: Rhonda Roland Shearer, Director; Deputy Assistant Chief – Ronald R. Spadafora, FDNY ; Nick Carcich, Construction; Captain – Mike Banker, FDNY; Peter L. Gorman, President of Uniform Fire Officers Association; John Dunne, Captain’s Representative Uniform Fire Officers Association; Bobbie Gray, Locals 14 and 15 (Operating Engineers) et al. See link for full list of committee.

Response to American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center. Article by William Langewiesche published in three parts in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Factual corrections to Part 1, “The Inner World,” August 2002.

No. Part 2

(magazine pagination)

Quotes with factual errors

(underlining of text not original)

Corrected facts
19 Page 75

“Firemen formed most of the recovery teams, and they directed the procedures. Affected no doubt by the isolation of the site as much as by their grief, they treated their own with a reverence not afforded others . . . in October led to an argument over the body of a Port Authority policeman that foreshadowed more serious confrontations to come. . . . Amputation may have been the right decision to make, but it was seen by the Port Authority officers who were arriving on the scene as a solution based on the firemen’s relative disregard for non-firemen, and their desire at all costs to keep searching for their own. This was probably unfair. But the police pointed out correctly that no dead firemen would have had his leg cut off. Still, the firemen were unwilling to change their minds.”

Lieutenant Bill Keegan, PAPD Night Commander (Sept. – May) denies the occurrence of this story. Chief Ron Spadafora, Safety Chief there from September 26th – April (he later became the on-site FDNY Incident Commander), also denies the truthfulness of this story.

Lt. Keegan explains that FDNY personnel initially thought the body was FDNY, that is until they looked at the “remote¡” equipment on the body, which did not match the type used by FDNY. PAPD was called over and identified the remote as a type used by them. Thereafter, the identification changed from FDNY to PAPD. Therefore, the “case” Mr. Langewiesche uses to support the “factuality” of FDNY’s willingness to cut up only “other” groups’ remains and not their own, indicates the 180-degree opposite – that FDNY was willing and would do field amputations, even to their own. Field amputations were done only when necessary. Members of the WTC Living History Project Group (see list) including PAPD police, state that it is a total untruth that FDNY would only cut the leg of others and not their own.

20 Page 75

“Normally there were seventy-five firemen on recovery duty at a time, supplemented by small numbers of police officers. They came in on one-month tours. . . “

It is inaccurate to characterize an overall normalcy to the ongoing quantity of recovery workers. Most important, in the largest scale picture, was the gradual ‘whittling down’ of numbers of Uniformed Services by the Mayor’s office and the DDC and the continuing fight to maintain higher numbers by construction workers, PAPD, NYPD, FDNY, and victims’ family groups – joined together in mutual interest.

The fluctuations of numbers of uniformed workers – going up, down, and up again – literally maps the major struggle that occurred in the first few months (until November) and was more telling and significant than the later stability in numbers of recovery workers after December.

Mr. Langewiesche was again factually wrong: there were not a standard “seventy-five firemen on recovery duty at a time” during Giuliani’s term (up until December 31, 2001). According to official FDNY Incident Action Plans (IAPs), from 9/24/2001-9/25/2001, there were 350 firefighters per 10-hour shift. By 9/25/2001-9/26/2001 there were 300 firefighters per 10-hour shift. By 9/30/2001-10/01/2001, numbers were reduced to 200 per 12-hour shift. 10/03/2001-10/04/2001 numbers were cut again to 160 . . . etc.

As stated in Part I, it is also incorrect to say that PAPD, NYPD/ESU “came in on one-month tours.”