Imagine you’re the publisher of a major national newspaper. A serial killer has mailed you his manifesto, claiming that he will stop the killings if you print it. What would you do?
This is the question explored in a NewseumED case study, and in the Discovery Channel series “Manhunt: UNABOMBER.” Fans of the series can also examine real-life artifacts belonging to the Unabomber himself, including the actual cabin where he lived in seclusion, in the Newseum’s “Inside Today’s FBI” exhibit.
Here’s the background. Read the facts, and decide — what would you do?
In 1995, The Washington Post and The New York Times received letters from an anonymous serial mail bomber who offered to stop his nationwide attacks if one of the papers published his 35,000-word anarchist manifesto, titled Industrial Society and Its Future. The UNABOM case, which stood for UNiversity and Airline BOMbing because of the academics and corporate executives targeted, had baffled the FBI from 1978 to 1995.
After consulting with law enforcement and government officials, and at the urging of the U.S. attorney general, the Times and Post decided to collaborate and publish the manifesto verbatim. The Post printed an eight-page special section; the Times helped with the cost. The papers’ publishers called it the “right choice between bad options.”
The brother of Ted Kaczynski read the published manifesto, recognized the writing style and notified the FBI. Kaczynski, a former mathematics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, was captured at his 10-by-12-foot shack in the woods of Montana. He pleaded guilty to 13 federal bombing-related charges and was sentenced to life in prison.
In a statement to his staff, New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. defended the decision to publish the manifesto and said it would not set a precedent. “Newsrooms regularly receive messages from people threatening dire action unless their demands are met. Our traditional response will continue to serve us well — we notify law enforcement officials, when appropriate, and print nothing. … You print and he (the Unabomber) doesn’t kill anybody else, that’s a pretty good deal. You print and he continues to kill, what have you lost? The cost of newsprint?”
|NewseumED Case Study|
|“Inside Today’s FBI”|
Contributing support for the popular exhibit “Inside Today’s FBI: Fighting Crime in the Age of Terror” has been provided by the Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: UNABOMBER. The “Inside Today’s FBI” exhibit features the original Unabomber cabin, on loan from the FBI, as well as other artifacts that explore the role of the FBI in national security. Manhunt: UNABOMBER, premiering August 1st at 9 p.m. on Discovery, chronicles the hunt for, and eventual capture of, the Unabomber; Discovery is excited to bring the story to life by helping to showcase the real-life relics from the case. The Newseum would like to thank the Discovery Channel for its partnership and support.