Thomas von Essen Shops Around Book on His Climatic Term as Fire Chief

New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen is shopping his memoirs. In a nine-page proposal submitted to book publishers on Nov. 16, the soon-to-be-former fire commissioner describes a book that will cover his career as a firefighter as well as his experience on Sept. 11.

“I propose to share for the first time my life story, including the minute-by-minute account of the events of September 11, the rescue effort that followed and the recovery that continues today,” Mr. Von Essen writes. “I have maintained detailed notes, calendars and diaries of my career, particularly during the last few months, trying to sort out the horror and bravery, the awful depths and incredible heights.”

But Mr. Von Essen’s proposal comes at an awkward moment, submitted in the same week that soon-to-be-former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik did a blitzkrieg bop of the press to promote his own memoir, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice . Though praised for its heart-wrenching personal revelations, Mr. Kerik’s book has faced criticism that it exploited Sept. 11 by rushing in a late chapter about the attacks and publishing 16 pages of police photographs taken at ground zero. (Said Mr. Kerik’s publisher, Judith Regan: “The photos are available to the public, and he would have been remiss not to address one of the more important moments of his life. And anyone who criticizes his writing about that is an idiot.”)

Mr. Von Essen himself is not unfamiliar with scorn from his own firefighters, especially during the past few weeks, after he supported Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s move to scale back firefighting personnel at ground zero. That conflict ended with the contingent of firefighters being restored to past numbers, but not before Mr. Von Essen briefly left the news conference weeping when a retired firefighter whose son is still buried at the site pleaded for more firefighters to aid the search.

Mr. Von Essen’s agent, Rebecca Kurson–wife of writer Ken Kurson, the co-writer of Rudy Giuliani’s upcoming books–said it was too early to comment on the memoir, and no closing date for the proposal has been set.

How big could Mr. Von Essen’s book become? One editor who has seen the proposal thinks that despite Mr. Von Essen’s heightened profile, finding an audience might be challenging. “He is a very sympathetic figure,” says the editor. “But I don’t see this as being a big book at all.”

Mr. Kerik’s book, meanwhile, is ranked No. 32 on Nov. 20 on the always fluctuating, mostly random and sometimes meaningless Amazon sales chart; it was No. 3,994 on

Like Mr. Kerik’s book, Mr. Von Essen’s as-yet-unwritten memoir will span the length of his civil-service career. According to the proposal, Mr. Von Essen will write about his time at Ladder 42, as delegate and later president of the firefighter’s union; about his battles against budget cuts; and about his appointment to the fire commissioner’s job in 1996, which prompted substantial grumbling from rank-and-file colleagues.

“Some firefighters still see my switching sides from labor to management as a betrayal,” Mr. Von Essen writes. “That’s ridiculous. I would never go against my conscience, I’d never betray my men …. I’ve taken a lot of criticism from the union, and while it hurts, I don’t back down.”

The commissioner’s memoir would join a legion of recently acquired titles that address the September events in some way: Gail Sheehy is following a group of bereaved families affected by the attacks for a future Random House book, for instance, while a photography book, In the Line of Duty: A Tribute to New York’s Finest and Bravest (featuring forwards by Mr. Kerik and Mr. Von Essen), was just published by HarperCollins. Basic Books recently signed Observer city editor Terry Golway to write a history of the NYFD to be published late next year, and Dennis Smith, a former firefighter turned author, is writing Report from Ground Zero for Viking. Mr. Smith’s book is due next month.

–P.J. Mark

Rod Dreher, the film critic turned conservative columnist at the New York Post , has taken his Ray Kerrison act across town. Picked to replace Mr. Kerrison after he retired in 1999, Mr. Dreher is joining National Review , where he’ll write his column three times a week for National Review ‘s Web site as well as pieces for the magazine.

Reached for comment, Mr. Dreher told us he was making the move partly out of concern for the safety of his 2-year-old son. “One thing that affected this decision was the anthrax attacks at the Post ,” said Mr. Dreher, who was on Cipro for a few days after a co-worker was found to be a victim of an anthrax attack. “What would I do if I got this stuff and my wife was left alone with our son?”

Mr. Dreher, whose last day was Nov. 16, plans to stay in Park Slope for now, but he said he was considering getting away and moving to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., some time next year.

But a Post source said that Mr. Dreher wasn’t exactly a perfect fit with new editor Col Allan’s depoliticized Post . His column was appearing less frequently; it ran on just 10 days this October, compared to 17 times in October last year. A spokesperson for the Post would not say whether Mr. Dreher’s column would be replaced.

Speaking of National Review , William Buckley Jr. managed to work himself into a tizzy in the Nov. 19 issue about how pervasive porn is in modern life. Exhibit A in his case: the February issue of Esquire . Ticking off all the references to sex he found in its pages–the crotch-level photo of Bill Clinton on the cover, a mention of “backseat action” in a car review, a discussion of morning erections and the like–a titillated Mr. Buckley concluded, “Is the Esquire given over to erotomania unique? Of course not, but it isn’t just one more girlie magazine. It is a sign of the times, the day of pervasive presence. Eros is crowding at us on all sides, as the erotic and pornographic merger.”

So what does Esquire editor David Granger think of the charge he’s putting out a porn mag?

“Oh, hell,” Mr. Granger said. “Does this mean that I have to open up National Review –two copies of which arrive unbidden at my office every month–for the first time in my life?”

–Gabriel Snyder

Since 1999, Robert Lanham, a 30-year-old Web-site designer, has run a site called Free Williamsburg devoted to the très cool Brooklyn neighborhood. Last September, Mr. Lanham assigned a story to his friend Grant Moser about the music scene there, and Mr. Moser, in turn, wrote about a recently released compilation of Brooklyn bands– This Is Next Year –and profiled clubs in the hipster hamlet: Northsix, Galapagos, Warsaw and Luxx. The latter club, Mr. Moser said, “reminded me of a Coney Island bumper car ring. Reflective wallpaper, clear plastic tubing, lights and a smash of colors came from all directions.”

The piece ran with the headline “A Scene Grows in Brooklyn,” and Mr. Lanham forgot about it until two weeks ago, when he saw The Village Voice .

What Mr. Lanham found in the Nov. 13 edition of The Voice was a piece by writer Chris Parker. Mr. Parker wrote about the This Is Next Year compilation and described the edgy new atmosphere for bands in Williamsburg, focusing on Northsix and Warsaw and Luxx, which, Mr. Parker wrote, “has–with its crush of colors, reflective wallpaper, lights and tubing–been compared to a Coney Island bumper car ring.” The headline for the piece? “A Scene Grows in Brooklyn.”

Did The Voice rip off Free Williamsburg? “The framework for the article is pretty much the same,” Mr. Lanham said. “It even had the same headline.”

The following day, Mr. Lanham wrote a letter complaining about the matter and received a voice-mail message from a Voice staffer. Then Mr. Lanham sent another letter, charging them with copyright infringement and asking them to pull the piece from their Web site. After Mr. Lanham’s first letter (which also appeared in the New York Press ) ran in the Nov. 20 edition of The Voice, Mr. Lanham spoke with Voice managing editor Doug Simmons. Mr. Lanham said that when they talked, Mr. Simmons cursed at him and was “unprofessional and rude.”

For his part, Mr. Simmons, while admitting he grew curt with Mr. Lanham, considers the issue over. The Voice ran the letter and added a link to Free Williamsburg on its Web site. He also said that after conferring with the paper’s legal counsel, any legal claim against the paper was “absolute bullshit.”

“How did we damage him?” Mr. Simmons said. “By giving him a plug? Usually when we reply to a letter, it’s a silly-sarcastic reply. No reply is good.”

Mr. Simmons considers it this way: If you’re going to talk about new music in Williamsburg, you have to write about these clubs and this CD. The Voice also had a longer piece with different sources.

“If I feel bad about anything, it’s the bumper-car line,” Mr. Simmons said. “We should have given him credit for that line. If the writer had just done that, none of this would have happened. It’s a matter of simple attribution. But I see one line and a terrible headline from a tired editor. I bet ‘A (Blank) Grows in Brooklyn’ has appeared in The Village Voice a dozen times. It’s clichéd and never should have run.”

The tired editor responsible for that terrible headline is music editor Chuck Eddy. “It was a shitty headline,” Mr. Eddy said. “It sucked when Free Williamsburg did it, and it sucked when we did it, too. “

Mr. Parker, for his part, said he came up with the story idea after attending a show at Northsix. It was only two weeks into his reporting, he said, that he saw the Free Williamsburg piece. “There’s no copyright on trend stories,” Mr. Parker said.

–Sridhar Pappu

If it’s six months after a new editor in chief took over, it must be time for shake-ups. Wired editor Chris Anderson has announced a raft of changes for the tech-fetishist’s magazine. Some veterans have been trimmed from the masthead, and a redesign is in the works.

Early on, the fluorescent-and-metallic-hued magazine built its reputation largely on its visual style–but nine years later, the title has become a bit more subdued, and the shock factor has also diminished as other magazines borrowed from its aesthetic devices.

“I don’t think Wired ‘s visuals have the impact they had in the beginning,” Mr. Anderson said. So he’s bringing in Darrin Perry as creative director. Mr. Perry did much to shape the busy look of ESPN magazine. The redesign is targeted for the May issue.

“We love our logo, we love the stripes on our spine, and fluorescent will always be part of our palette,” Mr. Anderson said, adding, “It was time for a new aesthetic.”

Mr. Anderson is also planning to revamp the “editorial architecture” of the magazine. As of Nov. 16, he let go of several editors and writers: Senior editor Paul Boutin, section editor Paul Spinrad and senior writer Chip Bayers, who had been at the magazine since nearly its founding, were all pink-slipped. Also, senior editor Tom McNichol will give up his title, but will go on contract as a writer. Mr. Anderson is bringing on Mark Robinson, who was most recently at Industry Standard as senior editor.


It’s bad enough that lovelorn reporters have to compete with lawyers and doctors. But competing with firefighters in today’s New York? Forget it!

The other night, at an after-party following the Financial Follies–the annual song-dance-and-booze festival thrown by the New York Financial Writers’ Association at the Marriott Marquis–a posse of firefighters arrived and quickly stole the thunder of the tuxedoed journalists on the prowl. “They’re so hot,” said one female business writer. Said a male colleague: “How do we have a chance with those guys around? It’s unfair.”


Last week, this column noted that Warner Bros. was unlikely to use a blurb from Time film critic and AOL Time Warner employee Richard Corliss in its ads for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone after Mr. Corliss pasted the film as “stodgy, humorless.” But it was interesting to see that AOL T.W. did dig up some Harry Potter superlatives from a previous Time feature by Jess Cagle, who gushed that the movie had “eye-popping grandeur, dazzling special effects and sumptuous production values.” And unlike Time , which whenever it writes about a corporate sibling dutifully notes that they are both owned by AOL Time Warner, the ads don’t mention that Mr. Cagle and young Harry are on the same payroll.

–G.S. Thomas von Essen Shops Around Book on His Climatic Term as Fire Chief