The Unabomber saga continues to offer the most tantalizing glimpse of the
publishing world since Martin Amis had his teeth done. The big news of the
week, of course, was the joint New York Times/Washington Post publication
of the latter-day Luddite’s 35,000-word manifesto, which finally rolled off
the presses on Tuesday. The publication of the document has created a
strangely unbalanced state of affairs in the public imagination: we now
know more about the politics of an anonymous terrorist than we know about
those of the nation’s President-in-waiting, Colin Powell, whose high-profile
book tour outshadowed the bomber’s debut this week. (The Unabomber,
wherever he is, might do well to learn from Powell’s hide-in-plain-sight
strategy; as any pollster will tell you, having opinions only hinders you
in today’s personality-driven political arena.)

The truth is we haven’t read through all of the Unabomber’s anti-tech
missive, though from what we can tell it’s mainly about how hard it is to
set those damn VCR clocks. But we have spent some time relishing
smut-meister Bob Guccionne’s hysterical “public letter” in the October
Penthouse. Sleaze aficionados will definitely want to check out this issue
— only for the articles, mind you. And maybe the cover, which boldly
announces, in type draped alongside the contours of this month’s Penthouse
Pet: “The Unabomber Speaks — Bob Guccionne Responds.” Sounds like strong
stuff, right? You might imagine Guccionne denouncing the moral atrocities
of killing innocent people for public exposure, or taking issue with the
Unabomber’s naive appeals to the simpler pleasures of pre-industrial
society. You might imagine that sort of response, but — of course — you’d
be wrong. Hideously wrong.

As it turns out, the Unabomber seems to have wounded Bobby G.’s pride
during the extended publishing negotiations, by referring to Penthouse as a
less than a “respectable” magazine. You’d think even Guccionne would be
indifferent to a killer’s standard of “respectability,” but apparently the
Penthouse editor is a little, well, sensitive on this point. “Over the
years,” Guccionne protests in his response, “Penthouse has won just about
every distinguished journalistic award a magazine could win…. The
demographic mix of our audience is virtually the same as that of the New
York Times and The Washington Post, but our total readership is many more
times that of the Times and Post combined… Penthouse is one of the
biggest and most quoted magazines in the history of our industry.” From the
self-aggrandizing tone of the letter, you’d think Guccionne was pitching a
media buyer at Wieden and Kennedy, were it not for this astonishing final
offer:

There you have it: kill, maim, and terrorize, and Bob Guccionne’s the first
in line to offer you a monthly soapbox with ten million readers. If the
Unabomber is really as smart as he’s made out to be, he’ll follow Groucho
Marx on this one, and avoid any magazine that would want him as a
columnist. Frankly, it’s the “respectable” thing to do.

— S.J. (September, 1995)


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