Ground Zero book draws clergy protests

Thursday, February 6, 2003

NEW YORK -- Clergy, firefighters and others protested at a publishing company Wednesday, outraged by a book they claim includes lies about looting and disrespect toward human remains at ground zero.

"American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center" by William Langewiesche has infuriated firefighters and others because it includes a passage relating the discovery of dozens of new jeans from The Gap -- still tagged, folded and stacked -- inside the cab of a fire truck pulled from the rubble.

The protesters, including many who spent time at the recovery operation, denied any looting of The Gap had taken place.

"We are looking to getting the historical record cleared," said Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the WTC Living History Project.

The book is among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards, and the protesters called for the nomination to be withdrawn. A call left with the critics' organization president seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The book also raises the issue of whether bodies recovered at the site were treated differently based on whether they were firefighters.

"I was down there. ... I saw our recovery was honorable," said Bill Butler, who lost his firefighter son, Tom, on Sept. 11.

"We gave a canine from the Port Authority an honor guard. ... This guy is crazy."

In interviews, Langewiesche has defended the accuracy of his book. A longtime correspondent with The Atlantic Monthly, Langewiesche was granted full access to the cleanup site, where he conducted extensive interviews over several months.

The book is published by North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A version originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.

In a statement, the publisher defended the book and said it had been vigorously fact-checked.

"We have carefully reviewed the responses received, as we will continue to do, but we have found nothing to date to challenge the integrity of 'American Ground,"' the publisher said. "We continue to stand by William Langewiesche's work."

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