Wednesday, October 16, 2002

SO NOT DAWKINS VS. GOULD: MediaMinded is pointing out that Stephen Jay Gould's widow is out to discredit those completely great William Langewiesche WTC articles from The Atlantic. I'd link to the actual NY Oberver article MediaM. links to, but it refuses to load. I need to read it. I mean, what's her motivation?

UPDATE: Double-M is right--this looks like a doozy:

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, North Point Press, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, shipped out copies of American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center, by journalist William Langewiesche, an account of the cleanup at Ground Zero by the only reporter granted unrestricted access to the site. The book was originally a three-part piece in The Atlantic Monthly which, with its unusual level of detail and ambition, made for early Pulitzer buzz. The book will be The New York Times Book Review’s cover review on Sunday, Oct. 20, after which Mr. Langewiesche will embark on a 15-city book tour.

But just in time to complicate the publication of this otherwise highly praised book, an unlikely protester named Rhonda Roland Shearer has appeared. Ms. Shearer, a 48-year-old artist and the widow of the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is on a personal crusade to debunk Mr. Langewiesche’s reportage, derail his Pulitzer hopes, and see the book recalled and destroyed.


Becky Saletan, the editorial director of North Point Press, said she was informed in early September that Ms. Shearer had complaints about American Ground. But Ms. Saletan added that she had not yet received the 33-page rebuttal. "It was news to me that there was any move afoot to get the book recalled and destroyed," she said.

She noted that Jeffrey Goldberg’s forthcoming review in the Times Book Review calls the book "truth unclouded by sentiment." Of the book’s author, she added, "I know his sourcing is impeccable."

If Shearer is anything like her husband, she's probably does have a nice-sized sentimental streak. Hey--was Gould's massive intellect the only thing reigning her in all this time? More:

Ms. Shearer, who did not lose any family members in the attacks, said that her efforts have the support of Marian Fontana, who lost her husband, firefighter David Fontana, in the disaster and now heads a powerful constituency of family groups. The chief of operations of the FDNY, Salvatore Cassano, has also expressed support, 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." Reached for comment, Chief Cassano said, "There were a lot of statements that the author made that have no substantial background to them."


But Ms. Shearer and her supporters focus much of their anger on statements in part three of The Atlantic series, entitled "The Dance of the Dinosaurs." There, Mr. Langewiesche reports that last autumn, a fire truck was unearthed from the rubble that was loaded with brand-new blue jeans, and it appeared that its crew had spent the time in which the first tower was burning stealing blue jeans from the Gap and loading them into the cab of their truck. The article reads: "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."

Ms. Shearer says the excavation of the truck in question took place at night, not in the afternoon, as Mr. Langewiesche reported, and that the jeans found near and around a fire truck were actually Structure brand, and that they’d been blown around the cab of the truck and were not neatly stacked, as Mr. Langewiesche had it.

"They didn’t even fact-check with the Gap. They weren’t even in the south tower. That’s how pathetic he is," Ms. Shearer said.


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