The Media Downplay the Unabomber-McVeigh Parellels
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 11, 1996
The discovery of Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski does
more than signal the end of an exhaustive federal manhunt -- it provides a
fascinating parallel to the apprehension of Oklahoma City bombing suspect
Timothy McVeigh. The extreme of militia-loving, government-hating ideology
meets an opposite extreme of nature-loving, technology-hating ideology.
Why is the parallel so fascinating? Because of the media's
different rules in the game of connect-the-dots between isolated, violent
loners and mainstream political figures. Everyone remembers the flurry of
accusations (led by national healer Bill Clinton) that the Oklahoma City
bombing was encouraged by conservative radio talk show hosts. Reporters and
columnists even found ways to pin the bombing on Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich.
The Oklahoma City bombing was portrayed as an intensely
ideological event. The May 1, 1995 Time cover story was headlined "The
Oklahoma blast reveals the paranoid life and times of accused bomber Timothy
McVeigh and his right-wing associates." The news magazines used labels
like "far right" and "extreme right" to explain McVeigh's
enthusiasms in twelve stories since the blast. Funny thing -- they used these
same terms to describe presidential candidates like Phil Gramm and Pat
Buchanan as they started their campaigns last spring.
Now try to search a media data base for
"Unabomber" and "left wing." Despite two major newspapers
publishing a rambling 35,000-word diatribe raging against capitalism and
technology, you won't find the press use any variant of "far left"
or "extreme left." (You will find, however, a Newsweek item using
the Unabomber metaphor to describe Bill Kristol's faxed memos against the
Clinton health plan.) Even with the discovery of Kaczynski, and the
preponderance of evidence showing his leftist ties, reporters are still having
trouble coughing up an ideological angle.
While reporters jumped at the chance to describe McVeigh's
attempts to join the Michigan Militia and his membership in the National Rifle
Association, little fanfare has been devoted to ABC reporter Brian Ross's
scoop: that Kaczynski may have been inspired by the radical-left activists of
the group Earth First.
ABC matched its emphasis on the McVeigh-NRA story with an
April 5 lead story on "World News Tonight" featuring Ross: "ABC
News has also learned that Kaczynski's name appeared in FBI files in November
1994 in connection with an FBI investigation of a radical environmental group
called Earth First, which is active in Montana. Over the years, Earth First
has best been known as a violent group spiking trees and blowing up logging
equipment, and in many respects, its anti-corporate philosophy parallels that
of the Unabomber." Ross also noted that the list of Unabomber targets
resembles a list made by a radical environmental journal.
Reporters would not dream of attaching Earth First to
"mainstream" environmental groups the way they attached McVeigh to
talk show hosts. Is the notion far-fetched? A 1990 Los Angeles Times story
noted that the sentiment that Earth First is a positive force "seems to
be shared by many in the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and other
mainstream environmental groups." The Times quoted Brock Evans of the
"conservative" Audubon Society: "I honor Earth First for having
the guts to do the things they do. It's not for me, but I understand why they
do what they do. And, ultimately, we all help each other."
Indeed, some reporters are actually insisting that Kaczynski
is no leftist. In the April 7 Washington Post, reporters Joel Achenbach and
Serge Kovaleski note: "He did not join the anti-war movement...He never
opted for long hair and beads and sandals. A photograph of Kaczynski
circulated this week at Berkeley shows him in the late 1960s still wearing a
jacket and tie, hair short, face neatly shaven."
Newsweek's Tom Morganthau quotes one source saying Kaczynski
grew "disgusted with the widespread drug use and liberal politics"
at Berkeley. He added: "Maybe so: the Unabomer [sic] manifesto is harshly
critical of leftism." In another article, Evan Thomas emphasized a 1985
letter from the Unabomber claiming to be part of "The Freedom Club, which
he described as 'strictly anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-leftist,' but
most of all, anti-science and technology." How very, very convenient. The
same could be said of Trappist monks. But if this ideology is driven by the
idea of the abolition of technology (and preferably, humans), how can it do
that without completely authoritarian government control?
Reporters surely will suggest that they're only reflecting
the nuances of Kaczynski's thinking, creating the most accurate portrait of
his disturbed ideology. Maybe. But since the media did no such thing in
lumping Timothy McVeigh to the entire conservative movement, just as they
lumped John Salvi to the entire pro-life movement, it's a pill that's
impossible to swallow.
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