Dear Lori Robertson, Editor
American Journalism Review

Steve Ritea's should be commended for raising the issues he does in Ground for Contention. (Jan/Feb AJR) However the article stops short of fully exploring the very serious issues he poses.

William Langewiesche and the Atlantic Monthly reported: "It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the looting had begun even before the first tower fell, and that while hundreds of doomed firemen had climbed through the wounded buildings, this particular crew had been engaged in something else entirely, without the slightest suspicion the South Tower was about to hammer down."

These "facts" were picked up and reported by other media. Mr. Langewiesche now appears to say he doesn't know if any of this actually true, only that this story illustrated the divisions between construction workers and firefighters. The Atlantic Monthly says its fact checkers were not trying to determine if the facts were true. Instead they were trying to determine "that this story was circulating." With all due respect, what kind of a standard is that? It resembles the standard employed by gossip columnists. This standard allowed a set of apparently false allegations about the fallen firefighters to be repeated across the country.

Ritea goes on to write that a reporter for Slate found six "extremely minor" errors. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics calls on journalists to "Admit mistakes and correct them promptly." The Atlantic's failure to correct any and all errors calls its standards into question and blemishes an otherwise impressive piece of work.

Gary Hill
Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee