Appearing on C-SPAN 14 months ago, Eric Alterman, a leftist writer, charged that public school buildings were collapsing because the Republican Congress had failed to provide funds for repairs. He said that in New York City ?beams were falling on the kids and children have been killed.? When that was disputed by a caller, Alterman said, ?I don?t say anyone?s killed. I think their lives have been threatened.? Then reversing himself again, he said, ?I think there maybe was one girl killed actually.?
We aired a commentary saying that Alterman had made a fool of himself. That had been bothering him for over a year. When he again appeared on C-SPAN on July 23, he brought up our critical commentary which he had seen on the Internet. He said that in his previous appearance he had said, ?I thought that I had read a story where an Asian-American student, a young woman, had been killed in New York by falling infrastructure, by the building tumbling on her head and killing her.? He said that after he was challenged by a caller, he pulled back because he wasn?t sure about it.
?It turns out,? he said, ?that I was absolutely right. I?m not always right, and I wasn?t pretending to know what I was talking about exactly then. But my memory was correct on that point. A young Asian-American woman was killed in a New York City school by falling brick or part of the roof. And so I will expect to see two articles by Reed Irvine apologizing to me and to you, Brian.?
Alterman?s timing could not have been worse. Three days later, The New York Times ran a front-page story about the failure of the New York City public school system to select responsible contractors and supervise the work that was being done in repairing and building schools. The story cited the case of the roof repairs that had been made on P.S. 131, the school where the Chinese girl had been killed by a falling brick. The $1.4 million contract for repairing the roof had been awarded to a small company run out of the basement of the owner?s home. The company had no experience supervising a large project.
It is a wonder that more children were not killed because of the carelessness of the contractor. He didn?t build the required sheds over building entrances and sidewalks to protect people from falling construction debris. A security fence was removed by mistake, allowing access to the area where the girl was killed. The contractor disregarded orders to halt its practice of putting bricks on the canvas that was spread over unfinished work.
High winds whipped up the canvas. Some of the bricks flew off the roof, killing the girl. The incredible mismanagement by the New York City School Construction Authority, not the Republican Congress, is to blame for that death, along with the violations by the contractor they chose. Alterman?s claim that he was right is nonsense. He was even wrong in claiming the school is in Queens, where he lives. It?s in Brooklyn. He owes apologies to us and to Brian Lamb and the C-SPAN audience.