The New York Times: When news is suppressed
When <em>New York Times</em> reporter David Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban, the newspaper kept it a secret—and persuaded other media outlets to do the same—for fear that publicity might inflame his captors an
Well, that was a nice surprise, said Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. Last week, The New York Times made the happy announcement that its reporter David Rohde had managed to escape the Taliban after seven months of captivity in Afghanistan—having not previously mentioned that Rohde had even been kidnapped. The Times had kept Rohde’s kidnapping a secret—and persuaded other media outlets to do the same—for fear that publicity might inflame his captors and interfere with negotiations for his return. Editor Bill Keller said that while the decision not to publish was a hard one, “I send a lot of people out into dangerous places, and their security is also part of my job.” But if concealing the story kept Rohde alive, said Kevin Libin in the Toronto National Post, then why does the media publicize any kidnapping? If a reporter’s life is sufficiently valuable to make a news organization suppress news, then “surely other lives are, too.”
Each kidnapping has its own internal logic, said Matthew Cole in New York. When al Qaida thugs kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, it became an international cause célèbre. The terrorists—thrilled to have the world’s attention—then decapitated Pearl on video. Times editors worried that if Rohde’s kidnapping became a “circus,” the price for his release—initially set at $25 million—“might escalate.” In Rohde’s case, said Nicholas Kristof in NYTimes.com, editors not only agonized over what approach would most likely result in his safe return, but also how to balance that with the paper’s obligation to inform its readers. “We believe deeply that the news should be reported, but not at the expense of somebody’s life.”
Really? said John Miller in National Review Online. I could have sworn it was The New York Times that in 2005 gleefully broke the news of President Bush’s secret terrorist surveillance program, “despite strong and well-reasoned objections” that the disclosure could compromise national security and cost American lives. Exposing Bush’s wiretapping program raised the level of mortal threat “not just to one person but to millions,” said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com. Maybe next time the Times editors find themselves with a similar “scoop,” they and the rest of the media should “keep in mind that among the millions of Americans whose safety could be compromised by are thousands of their own employees,” including David Rohde.