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Media Exalts Strawman to Discredit 9/11 Toxic Dust Victims

Editor & Publisher | February 13, 2007

NEW YORK In a major Tuesday article, The New York Times casts doubts on recent accounts -- by everyone from rival New York Daily News to President Bush and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- of an alleged hero of 9/11, a New York City police officer named Cesar A. Borja.

It's not disputed that he indeed died of lung disease and spent time at Ground Zero in New York. He has been "held up as a symbol of the medical crisis affecting the thousands of emergency personnel and construction workers who labored on the smoking remains of the fallen World Trade Center after the 9/11 attack," as the Times puts it. This even brought his son an invitation to sit in the gallery, and earn an ovation, at this year's State of the Union address.

But the Times' Sewell Chan and Al Baker now write on Tuesday, "It turns out, though, that very few of the most dramatic aspects of Officer Borja's powerful story appear to be fully accurate. Government records and detailed interviews with Officer Borja's family indicate that he did not rush to the disaster site, and that he did not work a formal shift there until late December 2001, after substantial parts of the site had been cleared and the fire in the remaining pile had been declared out.

"Officer Borja worked traffic and security posts on the streets around the site, according to his own memo book, and there is no record of his working 16 hours in a shift. He worked a total of 17 days, according to his records, and did not work as a volunteer there. He signed up for the traffic duty, his wife said, at least in part as a way to increase his overtime earnings as he prepared to retire.

'It's not true,' Eva R. Borja, the officer's wife, said of the Daily News account of his rushing there shortly after the collapse of the trade center. In two extensive interviews, Mrs. Borja displayed her husband's memo book, where he kept detailed notes about his work across his career. The first entry for working at ground zero is Dec. 24, 2001. Almost all the rest come in February, March and April 2002, five or more months after the attacks.

"Mrs. Borja said she still believed her husband was sickened in his work around the site. Shown his father's memo book, Ceasar Borja, who had become something of a spokesman for ailing 9/11 workers, said it was the first time he understood what his father had actually done....

"It is hard to determine precisely how the apparent misinformation about Mr. Borja's work at ground zero came to be reflected in newspapers, as well as in television and radio broadcasts. The family says it was not the source of the claims about working on the smoking pile. A spokeswoman for The Daily News insisted the paper had never explicitly said Officer Borja had rushed there soon after Sept. 11, only that at some point he had rushed there. Despite a number of articles and editorials that referred to him working amid the rubble and within a cloud of glass and concrete, she said the paper never actually reported his arriving there before December....

"Other newspaper accounts repeated the account of Officer Borja's work on the rubble without attributing it to anyone.

"Mrs. Borja and her son said that The New York Times was the first newspaper to ask them for documents showing Officer Borja's actual duties at ground zero."

The Times story continued, explaining that Borja's son had emailed newspapers and The Daily News responded. Throughout January, The News and other papers published numerous articles on Officer Borja's case. The News "comped" the son's trip to Washington for the State of the Union speech.

The New York Times itself published an article on Officer Borja, after he died at 52 on the evening of the State of the Union address. The article said he had died after becoming sick after working at ground zero.

The Tuesday article concludes: "Finally, Ceasar Borja, after having absorbed the implications of his father's records, said he was no less proud. 'I'm actually happy to know he wasn't on the pile,' he said, adding that those who were must be in even graver shape. He concluded: 'I don't believe my father to be any less heroic than I previously thought, any less valiant than the other papers previously misreported on.'

The entire article can be found at www.nytimes.com.

 

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