All that in just one day from a handful of top editors around the country upon learning that Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse and other magazines, was prepared not only to publish the massive manifesto of the deadly Unabomber terrorist, but that he was ready to offer this self-proclaimed killer a regular, uncensored column in his flagship publication.
Offering to publish the 35,000-word treatise of this anti-technology, anti-mass entertainment terrorist is a plausible, if unwieldy task (Mr. Guccione estimates it would take up 60 pages in Penthouse). Officials at The New York Times and The Washington Post say they are studying that possibility. But an uncensored, regular column! The imagery is beyond the macabre.
Although Mr. Guccione says he's intent on printing what he characterizes as the rational, well thought out manifesto of the so-called Unabomber, who has claimed responsibility for killing three people over a 17-year span, a debate is growing about whether the Penthouse owner should or should not publish. Many argue that if you give in to the demands of the Una-bomber (to kill again if his work isn't published) you establish a deadly precedent. And others have privately suggested stringing along the Unabomber to give federal law enforcement officials more time and opportunities to hunt him down.
While considering these arguments and admonitions, we spoke with F. Gilman Spencer, recently retired as the editor of the Denver Post after a distinguished journalism career crowned by a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. His conclusion: That the question of whether to publish or not publish the Unabomber's treatise should not be considered in the abstract. Ultimately, it comes down to each editor and his or her readers.
For Mr. Guccione, one of the publishing world's maestros of hype, the instinct was to plunge in and perhaps save some lives, as well as admittedly make some money on the newsstand. For other publishers in possession of the material, the decision of whether or not to publish will, as Mr. Spencer suggested, turn on specific grounds. While The Times and The Post ponder the matter (and the Unabomber has given them three months to respond), Mr. Guccione has spoken. For that he is to be commended.