This originally appeared on Barbara Ehrenreich’s blog.
I like to think that some of the things I write cause discomfort in those readers who deserve to feel it. Ideally, they should squirm, they should flinch, they might even experience fleeting gastrointestinal symptoms. But I have always drawn the line at torture. It may be unpleasant to read some of my writings, especially if they have been assigned by a professor, but it should not result in uncontrollable screaming, genital mutilation or significant blood loss.
With such stringent journalistic ethics in place, I was shocked to read in the February 14 Daily Mail Online a brief article headed “Food writer’s online guide to building an H-bomb…the ‘evidence’ that put this man in Guantánamo.” The “food writer” was identified as me, and the story began:
A British ‘resident’ held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a ‘joke’ website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night.
Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the ‘instructions’ after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.
While I am not, and have never been, a “food writer,” other details about the “joke” rang true, such as the names of my co-authors, Peter Biskind and physicist Michio Kaku. Rewind to 1979, when Peter and I were working for a now-defunct left-wing magazine named Seven Days. The government had just suppressed the publication of another magazine, The Progressive, for attempting to print an article called “The H-Bomb Secret.” I don’t remember that article, and the current editor of The Progressive recalls only that it contained a lot of physics and was “Greek to me.” Both in solidarity with The Progressive and in defense of free speech, we at Seven Days decided to do a satirical article entitled “How to Make Your Own H-Bomb,” offering step-by-step instructions for assembling a bomb using equipment available in one’s own home.
The satire was not subtle. After discussing the toxicity of plutonium, we advised that to avoid ingesting it orally, “Never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach.” My favorite section dealt with the challenge of enriching uranium hexafluoride: