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Naked Face discrepancy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2004

Ken Hirsch has uncovered a potential discrepancy in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, The Naked Face. Hirsch excerpts a January 2004 article from Smithsonian Magazine on the same topic in which a cop from Gladwell’s article gives a different account of events that led him to shoot a man. Here’s Gladwell’s version:

But at the time all Harms had was a hunch, a sense from the situation and the man’s behavior and what he glimpsed inside the man’s coat and on the man’s face — something that was the opposite of whatever John Yarbrough saw in the face of the boy in Willowbrook. Harms pulled out his gun and shot the man through the open window. “Scott looked at me and was, like, ‘What did you do?’ because he didn’t perceive any danger,” Harms said. “But I did.”

And here’s an excerpt from the Smithsonian Magazine piece:

The cop in the New Yorker article, in fact, was Harms, who got out of the car afterward and held the assailant in his arms as he died. Harms says what he actually glimpsed, long enough to read the brand name, was a can of hair spray in one of the assailant’s hands, and, in the other, a cigarette lighter. It was a weapon, a makeshift flamethrower capable of torching Harms and his partner. “It wasn’t something I was reading in his face, or any kind of cues,” Harms says. “It was the totality of the situation.”

There’s a certain amount of interpretation involved in explaining how Harms knew what he knew, when he knew it, when he decided to act on it, and what he remembered later, but even so, it may not be the strongest example of face reading out there. I’m keen to learn if this anecdote made it into Blink.