Friday, December 30, 2005

When Talk Turned to Assassinating George W. Bush

Three years ago the British satirist and New Statesman columnist Mark Thomas put a bounty on George Bush’s head. “Given that Osama Bin Laden has a price on his head and is wanted dead or alive for organising acts of terrorism,” Thomas wrote, “it seems only fair to offer a bounty to anyone who can kill George Bush.” Thomas was upset that the president was bankrolling a Colombian government “involved in the worst human rights abuses in the region.” He wasn’t scrawling this on the bathroom wall of a London pub, or writing it in his blog, but in Britain’s equivalent of, say, the New Republic. So he put up his New Statesman earnings, some $7,000, to entice a taker, with these directions: “If some would-be assassin wants to give me the option, I'd like him taken out with a lethal papier-mache weapon crafted from flour, water, dictionaries and Enron share certificates. However, these are the finer points of President Bush’s demise. I would obviously settle for him accidentally stabbing himself to death with the pin from his enamel US flag badge.” When one of Thomas’ colleagues at the New Statesman wrote that he had gone “a joke too far,” Thomas responded by increasing the bounty by about $300.

None of this was reported in the United States. American journalism takes its “mission” so seriously these days, therefore fails it so efficiently, that it doesn’t tolerate jokes it wouldn’t risk publishing, let alone condone. Plus, no editor wants an FBI visit for even suggestively associating with talk of assassinating a sitting president (an actionable infraction of sorts under USC 18, Section 871, which rules that anyone using the post office to make such threats, or who “knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat,” could face up to five years in prison). American journalism wasn’t about to be more welcoming of a novel on the subject. In came Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint last year. Read the rest…