The controversy over an FSG book about September 11 has spilled over to a prestigious awards committee. A few weeks after staging a march in front of the publisher's offices, a group of firefighters are planning a protest at the NBCC ceremony, scheduled for Manhattan's New School later this week. They are demanding that a book the committee has nominated, William Langewiesche's American Ground, be withdrawn from prize consideration. Langewiesche's book, in a much larger story of the recovery efforts at Ground Zero, alleges that firefighters engaged in incidents of looting and preferential treatment of victims. The book, which first appeared as a serial in the Atlantic Monthly, was fact-checked by staff there.
The New York Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which represents a group of 2,500 lieutenants and other commanding officers, sent a letter earlier this month to Chicago Tribune book editor and NBCC board president Elizabeth Taylor. They cited the "blatant untruth" of Langewiesche's book and asked that it be withdrawn from nomination. "We don't want this book to be part of the permanent history," said UFOA financial secretary John Dunne, who wrote the letter. "And the prize rubs salt in our wounds." The group is also asking that the offending passages be expunged.
The NBCC said it has been sufficiently assured of the book's accuracy and will continue to consider American Ground as a finalist. But what effect the stir will have on prize voting is something even organizers aren't sure about. "Everyone has such a unique calibration on how to vote," said Taylor.
The publisher, which last week sent a letter responding to the firefighters group and its organizer, Rhonda Roland Shearer, continues to back its author.
"We're not looking to stoke the controversy, but we'd like the author to get his due," said Becky Saletan, the book's editor. "We're not going to lie down for what we feel is a completely unfair campaign."