In the wake of Sept. 11, Chatterbox has developed a morbid fascination with Bill Ayers’ foiled publicity campaign for Fugitive Days, his memoir of the Weather Underground. As Chatterbox noted before, Fugitive Days tries to pass off armed rebellion against the United States as a sort of lark. In the book, Ayers maintains that he was not a terrorist because terrorists “kill innocent civilians, while we organized and agitated.” Chatterbox demurs. Any group that sets off two dozen bombs, including one at the Pentagon and one at the U.S. Capitol, as the Weather Underground did during the early 1970s, ought to be called a terrorist group. (The Weather Underground doesn’t appear to have killed anybody, unless you count the accidental deaths by explosives of a few of its members, but the lack of other casualties seems largely to have been a matter of luck.) Remember, too, that Ayers told his followers, “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.” This earns Ayers at least some spiritual kinship to Osama Bin Laden. (In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, which of course went to press before Sept. 11, Ayers maintains that this was “a joke.” In a more serious vein, Ayers was quoted by another Times interviewer as saying, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” As Chatterbox noted earlier, Ayers had the misfortune to see this hit the presses on Sept. 11.)
Except for Chatterbox and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, most news outlets seem initially to have given Fugitive Days a pretty favorable reception. The Chicago Tribune ran a largely glowing profile, accompanied by a lengthy book excerpt, in its Sept. 16 issue (which also went to press before the terrorist attack). Mysteriously, the usually peerless Ron Rosenbaum gave the book a sympathetic write-up in the Aug. 27 New York Observer. Carolyn See reviewed it favorably in the Washington Post on Aug. 31.
But the post-Sept. 11 environment poses a significant marketing challenge to Fugitive Days. Accordingly, Beacon Press has announced that it will “suspend promotional activity for this book out of respect for all those who died, their families and friends.” Ayers has posted on Beacon Press’ Web site a statement denouncing “the barbarism unleashed against innocent human beings last Tuesday” and expressing regret that his book should be published “in a radically changed context … the temptation for some is to collapse time.” In truth, though, the main thing this “changed context” does is remind the public that people who set off bombs run a significant risk of killing other people, even if, in spite of their public pronouncements, they don’t really want to kill other people. Although Chatterbox earlier marveled at Ayers’ good luck in avoiding prosecution and acquiring a certain outré glamour, his luck has now run out.