Yesterday the hardtracking staff wrote this about some awards handed out by author and publisher Rhonda Roland Shearer’s current website, and in the process mentioned her 2002 dustup with William Langewiesche, author of American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.

Here’s Ms. Shearer’s response:


4 points for the record since my “Media Ethics credibility” is presented as possibly at risk with only one-sided facts and an out of context paraphrase left for your readers to “decide.”:

1. The paraphrase you quote from the Observer article that is attributed to me (about my supposedly wanting to burn Langewiesche’s book etc) is not a quote attributed to me because I never said it. What I said is quoted in the Observer article. It was clear my views were separate from the group I was assisting (comprised of union leaders and as The Observer wrote, “New York City firemen, Port Authority and NYPD officers, construction workers and family members of the victims”).The Observer wrote:
“Ms. Shearer said. ‘The family members are thinking of how they could do a lawsuit,’ Ms. Shearer said. ‘Everybody hopes that this will just go away in retraction, apology and book-shredding.”

“What does Ms. Shearer hope will happen to Mr. Langewiesche? “I hope [the magazine] will deal with this internally,” she said. “Now that it’s all come out, that there is misconduct, that they’ll do the right thing.”

2. I was working solely as an artist and art historian in 2002. Workers at ground zero approached me about help getting correction. I said, “No problem” as I was completely naive thinking it would be easy. Documents that the group obtained proved many errors were made. Yet Atlantic Monthly only made a few of the numerous corrections required by the empirical record. It was the injustice of the harmful, un-fact checked charge, still often repeated– that 9/11 rescue workers on 9/11 were committing crimes, instead of helping victims –that mobilized me to study how journalism is supposed to be done and the ethical values that guide it. It was 2 years later that I decided to work as a journalist and eventually founded .

3. Langewiesche himself admits in a press conference that his claim of firefighters stealing jeans on 9/11 was not factual but that he was
“writing about construction workers reactions, not what actually happened” See video clip.
Moreover, Langewiesche states he is “entirely unsure” of any part of his now infamous claim that Ladder 4 firefighters stole GAP Jeans “before the towers fell.” See clip.
More here

4.  Many journalists supported me and the WTC Living History critiques of Langewiesche’s ‘facts,’ not just the ones you link to or cite.
Gary Hill, then head of the SPJ ethics committee, wrote to AJR —
“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.”


Thanks for writing, Ms. Shearer.

William Langewiesche: Anything to add?


John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
John R. Carroll has 305 post(s) on Sneak Adtack