Editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post are deliberating over a stark ethical dilemma: The Unabomber is demanding that the Times or Post publish his 35,000-word manifesto or he will kill again.
Though many journalists urged rejection of the ultimatum, representatives of both papers said Friday that they would withhold any decision until authorities were fully consulted.
The Unabomber, accused of 16 attacks that killed three people and injured 23, gave the papers 90 days to decide.
"We're weighing the possibility of risking human life against a publishing decision that could well encourage other acts of this kind," said Gene Roberts, the Times' managing editor. "It seems to me that you don't rush into this thing."
The Post issued a similar statement.
Experts at the FBI, meanwhile, spent Friday examining the Unabomber's manifesto. The Los Angeles Times reported that federal authorities are being deluged with calls from tipsters _ as many as 500 leads a day. Still, there was no indication that authorities are any closer to finding the Unabomber.
While more than 100 agents from the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies sorted through potential leads, airport security remained tight as thousands of passengers headed to Los Angeles International for the long holiday weekend, despite threats this week by the Unabomber to blow up an airplane leaving that airport by July 4.
The Unabomber later said in a letter to the Times that the threat was a prank intended to draw attention to his credo, expressed in a 62-page, single-spaced manuscript he mailed to the two newspapers.
Historically, U.S. newspapers have guarded their editorial freedom zealously against incursions from the government or individuals.
Yet, in this case, an ingenious criminal who has evaded capture for 17 years promised to cease his attacks against scientists and executives if his demand is met _ but threatened to strike again if not. Even if the diatribe is published, the bomber said, attacks against property might continue.
"I don't think anybody has a policy on how to handle something like this," said Bruce Garrison, professor of communication at the University of Miami and a specialist in journalistic ethics. "Newsrooms are ready for hurricanes and other disasters, but not for these kinds of threats."
Many others within journalism said the choice, though difficult, was clear: Newspapers and other media must not bow to coercion.
"I don't think you can let terrorists edit your newspaper," said Pete Hamill, a columnist for New York Newsday and former editor of the New York Post. "If you publish and you continue to encourage this guy, then you're doing a disservice."
One who disagreed was Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse. The Unabomber, believed to be based near Sacramento, Calif., also sent the manuscript to the magazine.
The bomber said he might kill one more person if the mainstream Times and Post rejected the manifesto and its "rights" passed to Penthouse, which specializes in nude pictures and unconventional political stories.
Guccione said he was negotiating with the bomber through the Internet.
"I'm offering him a page a month in the magazine for his own column to continue his diatribe indefinitely if he agrees to stop killing people indefinitely," Guccione said. "I would publish because it would stop his terrorist activities. It would save lives."
At least some law enforcement officials hope the newspapers agree with Guccione.
"We're looking to any means that would mitigate harm to the public safety," said Jim Freeman, who heads the FBI's San Francisco office.
Robert Lichter, director of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, understands how Freeman feels.
"If you could be sure of saving human lives, you should publish," he said. "Journalists talk about the need to perform a public service. Here's an opportunity."
Even if someone publishes the Unabomber's work _ which would take up seven full newspaper pages _ questions have been raised over who would read it.
The Times described the essay as "touching on politics, history, sociology and science as it posits a cataclysmic struggle between freedom and technology."
According to the Post, the "densely written" manuscript contains 232 numbered paragraphs on 56 pages of text plus 11 pages of footnotes and other material that expresses anarchistic views.
Entitled "Industrial Society and its Future," the essay begins: "The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."
The general journalistic consensus: The demand to publish the material was far more newsworthy than the material itself.
_ Information from the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.