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URI corrects “misinformation” in news release about professor’s book

March 13, 2012

The University of Rhode Island this afternoon issued a revised news release about a professor’s book, acknowledging that its earlier release contained misinformation.

Here’s the revised release in its entirety:

In a recent press release regarding the publication of Hell Above Earth: The Incredible True Story of an American WWII Bomber Commander and the Co-Pilot Ordered to Kill Him, we incorrectly stated that the subject of the book, Capt. Werner Goering, was the nephew of the Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering.

The book contains a surprise ending in which it is revealed that Werner Goering was not, in fact, related to the Nazi reichsmarshall, though U.S. military forces and the FBI believed that to be the case at the time.

The University of Rhode Island’s Department of Communications and Marketing did not receive an advance copy of the book and was not made aware of the surprise ending, resulting in a factually incorrect press release.

We at the University of Rhode Island take our credibility seriously and regret that our press release was misleading. Steps are being taken to ensure it does not happen again in the future.

The misinformation in the earlier release was identified by RIPR’s Flo Jonic and brought to URI’s attention. The Associated Press circulated a report based on the misinformation. The ProJo did, too.

Hell Above Earth was written by Stephen Frater, URI’s writer-in-residence and a former reporter. He’s working on a biography project at URI involving the late governor Bruce Sundlun.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2012 8:23 pm

    “The book contains a surprise ending in which it is revealed…”

    Surprise ending no more.

  2. March 13, 2012 11:38 pm

    Here is how professional trade reviewers at Kirkus Reviews handled the issue two months ago, without spoiling the read.

    HELL ABOVE EARTH (reviewed on January 15, 2012)

    “The riveting true story of a World War II bomber pilot and the co-pilot who received orders to kill him.

    At the beginning of the war, U.S. pilot Werner Goering was “an exceptional pilot” whose “nerves of steel, combined with his unwavering ability to make split-second decisions, saw his crew safely home, mission after grueling mission.” However, writes Sarasota Herald-Tribune staffer Frater, he was also the nephew of Hitler’s right-hand man and head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering. As a national-security precaution, FBI officials ordered his experienced co-pilot, Jack Rencher, to kill him if their B-17 was going down over Nazi territory. In addition to examining the friendship that developed between the two, the author packs the narrative with rapid-fire history and statistics about the 303rd Bomb Group, the growth of the U.S. Air Force and the overall tenor of the war. Frater captures the strength, fear and bravery of Goering and Rencher’s crew, but never fully explains the details of the men’s lives. The narrative is more a factual recounting of Goering’s career, which began as an untrusted pilot and continued for more than 20 years as a risk-taking spy during the Cold War, ending at a desk in the Pentagon. After the twists and turns in Goering’s many missions, Frater finishes with a stunning revelation. Despite occasional repetition, the author delivers an exciting read full of little-known facts about the war.

    A WWII thrill ride.”

    Last, but far from least, when asked about the book’s finale, I immediately and casked to speak “off the record” with NPR reporter Flo Jonic about the book’s stunning and surprise ending, as I have with numerous media outlets covering the book’s release.

    After nearly a 40 minute audio taped and fully candid interview, that request was agreed to, and then violated by Ms. Jonic.

  3. March 13, 2012 11:41 pm

    Ed: “I immediately asked” corr.pls.

  4. March 14, 2012 1:16 am

    Reference to surprise twist ending on CBS’ CT affiliate:

  5. March 14, 2012 1:41 pm

    Off the record means not for publication. Rhode Island Public Radio did not broadcast or publish anything about this book until the University of Rhode Island issued a statement clarifying an earlier press release incorrectly reporting that there was a familial relationship between Werner Goering and Hermann Goering. If Mr. Frater has an issue with anyone it is with his publicist, not Rhode Island Public Radio.

  6. March 14, 2012 2:27 pm

    sounds like it’s still a good read; ending doesn’t need to be a surprise; how many potential readers know of this?

  7. March 14, 2012 2:34 pm

    “The problem is it wasn’t true.” Flo’s last sentence in her article.
    The good news is that most of it is true and the information deemed false enhances the story.

    • March 14, 2012 2:35 pm

      correction: last sentence, first paragraph

      • March 14, 2012 4:11 pm

        I have not seen this article, only Ms. Jonic’s posting here. Where is it available and where is the link to NPR’s broadcast at 5:00 pm yesterday? Ed: Please post both for the benefit of those who have not seen or heard them please.

  8. March 14, 2012 3:55 pm

    This book was written, partially in the present tense, to reflect what had been the published and accepted as “truth” in 1942 and for the next seven decades in books, newspapers, military documents and Websites.

    – Werner Goering, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and a retired Lt. Colonel lived 88 years of his life believing he was the nephew of Hermann Goering. (The author informed him in 2010 that he was in fact not a blood relative.)

    – HELL ABOVE EARTH uncovered and published the truth after three years of primary genealogic and historical research involving genealogists in the USA and Europe, and Mormon Archival specialists; and including a FOIA release of military records in 2009, never before seen by the public, which went directly to J. Edgar Hoover in 1942.

    – For the reader, the story unfolds in time, and the revelations come when they’re revealed to the characters, only at the very end of the book as the author uncovers a trail of discrepancies which lead to the ultimate revelation and truth.

    When the book opens in 1942, it is the rock solid truth as far as the world, the FBI, Colliers Magazine and all the characters were concerned and that is where readers begin their voyage.

    Excerpt from HELL ABOVE EARTH –

    “Werner said his father, Karl Frederich Goering, was born in 1875 and immigrated to the US after World War I. According to published sources, Herman Goering’s father, Heinrich Ernst Goering; a German diplomat who was a favorite of the great Bismarck, had four children by his first wife, and five children by his second, including Herman, born in 1893.

    One of the children from the first marriage was Heinrich Karl, born in 1879, and one from the second marriage was Karl, born in Africa in 1885.

    I was faced with three Karl Goerings, all about the same age, yet none of their birthdates matched.

    My first thought was that the Mormon Church, Karl Goering’s employer for decades and the holder of a vast repository of European genealogical information, could clear things up. The church informed me that it could not legally release Karl’s personnel records, but a church archivist recommended a German researcher I could hire to confirm the birth dates, places, and names in German public records.

    The researcher reported that Werner’s father, Karl Frederick Goering, had indeed been born in 1875. There was no mistake there. Equally important, Karl hailed from Thuringia, Germany, whereas the Heinrich Karl Goering with a birth date of 1879 had been born in Metz, near the German-French border. There was also no mistake about the third Karl; he had been born in 1885 in German South West Africa, today’s Namibia, when his father was colonial governor.

    Revisiting biographies of Herman Goering, I read that he attended the funeral of his first wife in Sweden in 1931 with his brother Karl, who died the next year in Germany. This was long after Werner’s father came to America and settled in Salt Lake City.

    Convinced Werner’s resemblance to the Reich Marshal surely had some genetic basis, given Werner’s own belief in his family’s oral history, I searched for older blood-ties, perhaps in the 1800s or even earlier. Were Karl and Herman half-brothers, second cousins? I had no idea, but by then I knew for a fact they were not brothers, which also meant Werner was not a nephew of “Uncle Herman,” despite what he thought and the remarkable resemblance he bore to the young Herman.”

    Copyright 2012 Stephen Frater

    As stated, several other media outlets asked the same question and I’ve always stated that I want to go “off record” and/or that there is a surprise twist ending, refered to by a half-dozen prominent authors and trade reviewers.

    Ms. Jonic, promised me that we were off record, I told her exactly what the facts were and she then took it upon herself to impugne my work with the publicity officials at URI, who sadly never took the time to walk to the Carothers Library where a copy of book, donated by me – the first in any library in the world – is cataloged.

    The “we didn’t see it” dog does not hunt. Several copies of the manuscript have been available on campus for at least half a year.

    The “we are inept in publicity matters and uninformed about the material in question due to our own fault” dog does however.

    Having been a journalist and columnist for many years, I know exactly what “off record” means,

    Ms. Jonic saw an easy and in my opinion, cheezy “gotcha folo” and raced to reveal what she’d agreed to keep off record, thereby instigatigating, again in my opinion, the ill advised second release from URI yesterday which Ms. Jonic and RI NPR then gleefully pounced on

    Among journalism’s code of ethics is the Harm limitation principle

    “During the normal course of an assignment a reporter might go about—gathering facts and details, conducting interviews, [etc] ..harm limitation deals with the questions of whether everything learned should be reported and, if so, how.

    This principle of limitation means that some weight needs to be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure, creating a practical and ethical dilemma.

    The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics offers the following advice, which is representative of the practical ideals of most professional journalists.

    Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.

    Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

    Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. ”

    Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

  9. March 14, 2012 4:16 pm

    Not all of our stories are posted on our Web site, and this one wasn’t, so I can’t post it here.

  10. March 15, 2012 4:03 pm

    By not airing the lengthy interview, which recounts in detail the tremendous sacrifices and costs of the air battle over Europe, the deadliest battle of the war for Americans, as well as the longest, WRNI has, in my opinion, done a disservice to its listeners and to those who served and died in the tens of thousands, not to mention the 770,000 civilians, 16 percent of them children, who died in the Allied bombing campaign in Germany, France and Italy.

    “For each German soldier killed on the battle field, the Allies killed two or three civilians.” It’s a shame the story’s largely unknown details have been obscured by the actions of WRNI in this matter. I’m conducting TV and radio interviews daily and those who’d like to hear the tale should visit the HELL ABOVE EARTH Facebook site where audio and video clips, along with photos and excerpts are posted daily.

    For the record, HELL ABOVE EARTH is near the very top of Amazon’s military aviation bestseller list in both hardcover and e-books, and is already in the top 100 WWII nonfiction book list, within 48 hours of release.

    As a former journalist, broadcaster and author who grew up in RI, attended Brown University and teaches at URI, I find WRNI’s decision not to air the extensive interview, and their breach of non-disclosure to be a poor reflection of the station’s support of Rhode Island’s arts community and contrary to the mission of educating and entertaining listeners.

  11. March 18, 2012 4:23 pm

    Providence Sunday Journal Book Review
    March 18, 2012

    A stranger-than-fiction World War II tale
    By Jon Land
    Special to the Journal

    “The past,” Wiliam Faulkner tells us, “isn’t dead..In fact, it’s not even past.”
    And that’s exactly what Stephen Frater makes it seem like in his splendid World War II tale, Hell Above Earth (St. Martin’s, 320 pages, $25.99). Frater, a professor the University of Rhode Island’s harrington School of Communication and Media, has penned a meticulously researched and brilliantly reconstructed tale of truth and treachery that’s as riviting as nit is heart stopping.

    Hell Above Earth tells the tale of U.S. fighter pilot Capt. Werner Goering, who thinks for most of his life he is the nephew of thje infamous Hermann Goering, who just happened to be the commander of the very Nazi Luftwaffe Werner would be battling in the skies above Europe. Once word of his posting spread through U.S. Government circles, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover issued orders that he be executed by whoever shared the cockpit with him in the event his plane was shot down to avoid messy propaganda issues his capture might yield.

    “On September 4, 1943,” Frater writes, “a ‘confidential letter of transmittal’ attached to a fat intelligence file regarding Werner Goerge Goering landed with a thump on J. Edgar Hoover’s desk at the FBI [that]..would determine Werner’s fate.”

    Heady stuff that sounds more like the intrigue-riddled worlds of Jack Higgins or Frederick Forsythe than nonfiction. Frater wonderfully mixes the most melodramatic monents of suspense with back-story on the players involved, including Werner Goering’s own struggles to escape the notorious [Hermann] Goering’s shadow.

    The result is a tale that’s novelistic in scope while never losing touch with its nonfiction roots, especially in later scenes intercut between Goering and Herman Goering, evoking comparisons to modern masters of the form like Mark Bowden and Sebastian Junger.

    That’s the league Hell Above Earth both aspires to and belongs among. Truman Capote may have coined the phrase “the nonfiction novel,” but Stephen Frater has mastered it as well.

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