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Contentions

So They Can Keep a Secret

I am very relieved that daredevil New York Times reporter David Rohde has managed to escape his Taliban kidnappers. I am also very impressed that the Times managed to keep news of his kidnapping a secret for seven months. I had actually heard of his kidnapping months ago, but it was scrupulously kept out of print not only by the Times but also by competing news organizations that also had heard of it. The logic behind this policy is explained in the Times today:

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “The kidnappers initially said as much. We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

I don’t have any quibble with the Times’s decision to keep the lid on the kidnapping. It was clearly the right thing to do.

I only wish the Times and other news organizations displayed as much regard for the nation’s secrets as they do for their own. The Times has no problem disclosing secret wiretapping of terrorists notwithstanding arguments from senior government officials that this would compromise vital programs. So the secrecy pleas which the Times took so seriously in the case of David Rohde were completely disregarded in the case of al Qaeda surveillance even though experts warned that the Times’s disclosure could increase the danger not just to one person but to millions. Perhaps in the future when deciding whether or not to publish details of covert government programs, the Times and other media organizations should keep in mind that among the millions of Americans whose safety could be compromised by their disclosures are thousands of their own employees.



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