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The New York Times used its influence to kill a story: that one of its reporters was kidnapped. It gained the agreement of countless other outlets to suppress the news. Wikipedia agreed to squelch attempts to break the story there, too. The rationale was that doing so would keep his ransom low and help ensure his safety. David Rohde ultimately escaped his Taliban captors.

This one's a toughie.

On one hand, it's an uplifting story about how dissimilar organizations came together to limit the risk to an endangered reporter. Common sense suggests the right thing was done.

On the other hand, the NYT has no qualms reporting other kidnappings--only when its own financial self-interest is at stake does it take refuge in security-before-truth pieties. What other undisputed truths do the media collectively agree not to report? What other favors might Jimmy Wales be enticed to perform?

Actually, don't answer that last one.

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

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  1. Hmm- I couldn’t disagree with what NYT did at all – comnmon sense, as you say. But it cannot be denied it is also pure hypocrsiy of the highest order. AQ free press can make things worse as often as they make things better.

    Yep, we sure do live in a paradoxical world. The cat is both dead and not dead.

  2. In 1983 domestic terrorists (a group calling themselves the ARU -Armed Resistance Unit) bombed the Capitol Building in DC. The ARU was a group formed from members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army. This is when all those Jersey barriers started showing up in DC to limit traffic (ostensibly to prevent car/truck bombs).

    I was stationed in DC at the Marine Barracks (which is why I knew about it. I was part of the Guard unit at the Barracks and charged with security of the facility) at the time and called home to Texas to talk to my Mom a week later. She had not heard anything about it on TV, the radio or read about it in Houston Chronicle.

    Does anyone else remember coverage of this?

    Apparently the News agencies were asked not to cover the event as not to give publicity to the group and they acceded.

  3. Key point here is that the Rhode thing fits into an especially tough category of story for a news org to report: The category where its own reporter becomes the news. It’s tough to write detachedly (is that a word?) about yourself. In a nutshell, that’s the problem the NYT faced.

    In his post, Beschizza writes: xxx only when [the NYT’s] own financial self-interest is at stake does it take refuge in security-before-truth pieties xxx.

    I don’t think that’s being fair. Different flavors of this kind of decision happen all the time at responsible news shops. the obvious example is, media outlets often agree not to report rape victims’ names. But there are plenty of other situations, and they can be less cut and dried. EG in the case of sensitive stories involving natl security, publication of a story might be delayed if the govt makes a persusaive case that the story risks lives or security. Another example: Is it fair, or not, to publish a tough story about a candidate close to election day? Even if the story is the epitome of journalistic rigor, printing it just before the vote can raise issues of fairness/impartiality.

    I am not saying these are apples-to-apples with the David Rhode thing. I’m saying his kidnapping is a particularly personal version of a whole class of tough decisions that newspeople have to struggle with. What is the “right” decision in any of these cases? Tough question to answer.

    I’d also guess the NYT had the Daniel Pearl case front of mind as it weighed how to best handle the Rhode thing. Pearl’s kidnapping was highly publicized, as you may recall. It turned into a higly public tragedy. Also, recall that in the Pearl case, there was an effort to keep the fact that he was Jewish under wraps. That effort was sadly unsuccessful … but was it wrong? I’d say, absolutely not.

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