Yon on kidnappings and journalism

posted at 9:35 am on June 27, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Michael Yon has returned to Afghanistan to bring us more of his gripping reports from the front lines of the war on terror, and not surprisingly, his thoughts have turned to another writer who recently returned from the same place.  In his first dispatch, Michael talks about the case of David Rohde, the New York Times reporter who managed to escape from the clutches of kidnappers more than seven months after he disappeared:

War correspondence must be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  Among the journalists, photographers and writers of the world—of which there must be millions—the true war correspondents are the “special forces.”  How many true war correspondents have been produced in this generation?  The number must be limited to the dozens.

Faces change but the danger is constant.  There is no way around it.  Doing the job safely is impossible.  Some say that the best way to avoid danger is to stay with the troops.  This is completely false.  I spent more time with U.S. troops in Iraq than any correspondent from any organization, and the same might also be true of British forces.  The time with the troops has been far more dangerous than time spent unembedded.  I’ve never been in a shootout in Iraq or Afghanistan other than those times with U.S. or British forces, in which case it would be impossible to remember all the firefights, bombs, sniper attacks, or all the dead bodies.  The most dangerous work that one can do is to embed with our combat troops.  Nothing else comes close.

Yet there is something particularly edgy about going alone, as David Rohde has done.  Only our most highly trained soldiers go out in tiny numbers, and none, to my knowledge, go out the way correspondents do.  When I have showed up at the front gates of U.S. or British bases, the soldiers tend to be astounded or even appalled.  They can’t believe anyone would be dumb or crazy enough go out there without bristling guns, helicopter support, and armor.  But again, the fact is, I have never been attacked while alone, but when I am with U.S. or British forces people all around me get hit and it’s only by the Grace of God that I haven’t been hit.

Not only is the job more dangerous than almost anything except being on the front lines as a soldier, but the correspondents often don’t get the recognition of it.  Stephen Vincent paid with his life for reporting from the “Red Zone.”  Many of us derided the habit of the global media of reporting the Iraq war from hotel rooms in the Green Zone and relying on stringers for the facts, when the stringers had their own agendas.  The alternatives were either to embed with the troops, which got reporters access to the immediate stories, or to travel alone and dig for other stories.  When Jill Carroll did the latter and got abducted, some of the same voices that criticized the Green Zone approach accused her of complicity in her own abduction.  It’s pretty thankless, especially when the stories turn critical, as Michael can tell you from firsthand experience.

Michael chooses not to criticize the New York Times for keeping Rohde’s abduction quiet, although he notes (as did I) that they’re not very consistent on that point:

The New York Times and big media outlets are being blamed for suppressing the story and thereby giving special treatment to one of their own.  It’s clear that they did give special treatment to one of their own.  In fact, when police lose an officer, they also put special emphasis on the crime, and when soldiers lose one of their own, they also put special emphasis on rescue.  Iraqi soldiers who helped us locate American soldiers were sometimes upset that we barely lifted a finger when their own were captured and brutally tortured.  That the New York Times gave special treatment to one of its own is a fact.  That the U.S. military does the same is a fact.  Maybe it’s human nature.

Be sure to read it all.  Michael has done a lot of thinking on this point.  Also, don’t forget to hit Michael’s tip jar while you’re there, because all of his reporting is reader-supported.  Michael is a true free-lancer, and one of the best war correspondents we have.


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That the New York Times gave special treatment to one of its own is a fact. That the U.S. military does the same is a fact. Maybe it’s human nature.

I suppose that’s technically true. But it’s silly to try and equate these. The military and the NYT both give “special treatment” to kidnappers who target their own; but the kind of treatment each gives is the exact OPPOSITE.

If you want to claim that both are “human nature”, well I suppose that would be OK too. But that means you’re using two separate definitions for the word “human.”

logis on June 27, 2009 at 9:57 AM

His book should be required reading IMO.

Yakko77 on June 27, 2009 at 9:57 AM

Has the Taliban camp where Rhode was supposedly being held been bombed yet or did he refuse to tell US forces where he was supposedly being held hostage?

That the New York Times gave special treatment to one of its own is a fact. That the U.S. military does the same is a fact. Maybe it’s human nature.

What a strange bit of equivocation that was.

Buddahpundit on June 27, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Also, don’t forget to hit Michael’s tip jar while you’re there, because all of his reporting is reader-supported. Michael is a true free-lancer, and one of the best war correspondents we have.

Indeed.

katy on June 27, 2009 at 10:15 AM

Also, don’t forget to hit Michael’s tip jar while you’re there, because all of his reporting is reader-supported. Michael is a true free-lancer, and one of the best war correspondents we have.

Indeed.

katy on June 27, 2009 at 10:15 AM

Dittos. Michael Yon is a great American journalist.

Loxodonta on June 27, 2009 at 10:24 AM

Was Rohde’s kidnapping an act of terror, or a method to derive ransom $?

From the point of view of the kidnappers/terrorists, why did they keep it silent? Doesn’t the terror and payment of ransom depend upon the event being public?

I know these questions have been asked before. But something about this story isn’t clear to me. How would publicizing his capture affect whether or not the Taliban murdered him, unless the Taliban demanded silence, and if that case, why?

JiangxiDad on June 27, 2009 at 10:29 AM

Michael is a true free-lancer, and one of the best war correspondents we have.

Ditto! I’ve donated before, need to again…this is a very good man doing very hard work. He is a true treasure.

Richard Romano on June 27, 2009 at 10:36 AM

Also, don’t forget to hit Michael’s tip jar while you’re there, because all of his reporting is reader-supported. Michael is a true free-lancer, and one of the best war correspondents we have.

Right after he quits repeating the “Mexican drug cartels are buying all their weapons on the US civilian market” lie.

doubleplusundead on June 27, 2009 at 10:39 AM

…true war correspondents are the “special forces.” How many true war correspondents have been produced in this generation? The number must be limited to the dozens.

I spent more time with U.S. troops in Iraq than any correspondent…

I have showed up at the front gates of U.S. or British bases, the soldiers tend to be astounded…- Yon

“I”, “I”, “I”, Sorry, but IMO this is just more of Yon’s latest me me me style of writing. Can’t imagine Earnie Pyle or others like him hyping themselves as the “special forces”, while their Wars still raged on. IMO, to that generation of war correspondants, the warfighter rightly remained the focus. As Earnie Pyle wrote:

Their life consisted wholly and solely of war, for they were and always had been front-line infantrymen. They survived because the fates were kind to them, certainly — but also because they had become hard and immensely wise in animal-like ways of self-preservation. – Pyle

Yes, in time, the story of this wars scribe’s should be told and their “special”ness where appropriate, so noted. However, for Yon to again start sprinkling holy water over himself now, is at best tacky. Again, after reading Yon’s new stuff, I leave with a sense that here’s a great guy, burdened with an overactive EGO, which produces an overhyped opinion of himself.

“Let’s Roll”

On Watch on June 27, 2009 at 10:54 AM

Right after he quits repeating the “Mexican drug cartels are buying all their weapons on the US civilian market” lie.
.
doubleplusundead on June 27, 2009 at 10:39 AM

.

I second that!

Early on I hit Yon’s tip jar on a regular basis.   But, no more!
.

martywd on June 27, 2009 at 6:19 PM