Inside Media: Hunt for the Unabomber

July 20, 2008

Guests: David Johnston, Terry Turchie and Kathleen Puckett

Covering the "Unabom" investigation, particularly in the final years, had a certain intensity that matched the investigation itself, according to New York Times reporter David Johnston.

"You knew it was a diabolical mad genius behind this," said Johnston, who wrote about the case and the Unabomber's capture in 1996. "You also felt the urgency on the FBI's side to try to solve this case," he said. "It had all the ingredients of a great thriller unfolding as you were writing about it."

Kathleen Puckett, a special agent in the task force, described her role as a behavioral psychologist giving insight into the killer's mind and behavior.

"It's not a scientific process," she said. "It's an investigative and a very painstaking process. People are not completely predictable, so it was a very challenging case."

Terry Turchie, the FBI agent who supervised the Unabom federal task force in its last several years, said the investigation included a media strategy of getting information to the public to help solve the case.

The media's biggest role came when the publishers and executive editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post met with case agents and FBI director Louis Freeh. The newspapers agreed to jointly pay for the Post to print a 35,000-word manifesto that the Unabomber demanded they publish.

After reading the manifesto in the Post in September 1995, David Kaczynski notified authorities that he thought his brother might be involved. By April 1996, Theodore Kaczynski was in federal custody. He later pleaded guilty to the bombings.

"One of the proudest moments of our careers … was actually that meeting with The New York Times and The Washington Post," Turchie said. "It just changed my whole idea about how important the cooperation between law enforcement and the media is."

"Inside Media," produced by the Newseum, is open to the public. Seating is on a space-available basis.

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