Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the New York Times, has chimed in on the paper’s silence regarding the kidnapping of David Rohde, one of its correspondents, for over half a year by the Taliban.
During that time, the Gray Lady did all it could to prevent this news from leaking to the public. It muzzled its own staff, reached out and begged for discretion to other media outlets, bloggers, government officials, and anyone else who found out about the kidnapping. It even persuaded the people running Wikipedia to keep the secret, hoping to help preserve the journalist’s safety and win his release. It even censored its own records, removing references to Rohde’s previous career at the Christian Science Monitor, fearing the “Christian” label would endanger him.
It was a tremendous effort, and it was successful. No one noticed David Rohde had disappeared until he reappeared, safe and sound, having finally escaped. Others have condemned the Times for its efforts to suppress the news regarding his situation. I won’t do that. Their efforts were aimed at preserving his life, and that is an entirely laudable goal. For that I will applaud them.
I will, however, point out that the same principle was not applied by the Times regarding other sensitive information related to terrorists. For example, the Gray Lady had published a story on one of the government’s most successful terrorist interrogators. The interrogator, through applied psychology, extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a great deal of highly valuable intelligence, thus winning the enmity of some very dangerous people. The Times had no problem giving out the gentleman’s name and home town.
Likewise, several years ago, the Times got wind of the CIA transporting terrorists around the world in private planes. The Times not only broke the story, but published pictures of the planes — complete with identifying registration numbers. And let us all not forget how the U.S. government managed to track terrorists through their financial transactions until the Times discovered the method and plastered its details all over its front pages.
Congratulations on your safe return home, Mr. Rohde. And congratulations to your employer, the New York Times, on its efforts at keeping your captivity secret out of concern for your safety.
Now, if only the Times could extend such concern and discretion to those who are not in its employ…