The Times inconsistency on kidnapping coverage

Over the weekend, I explained my decision to stay quiet about the kidnapping of the New York Times’ David Rohde when I first learned about it in March.  The Times asked me to refrain from publishing it in order to keep from endangering Rohde, which I agreed could risk his life by giving the Taliban kidnappers exactly what they wanted — an audience.  I’m happy with my decision, but Marc Danziger at Winds of Change points out that the Times themselves don’t stick to that policy when someone other than a NYT reporter gets abducted:

Do a NY Times search for “kidnapped Afghanistan” and you’ll find this January 2008 story about an American woman and her driver who’d just been kidnapped, this September 2008 story about an Afghan official who was kidnapped in Pakistan, a November 2008 story about a French aid worker who was kidnapped in Kabul.

Now that doesn’t mean they cover every kidnapping -just that they cover some.

And that’s not to mention the national security stories they happily and proudly ran (the Swift program, a perfectly legal program for tracking international financial transactions which they uncovered, among others).

I mentioned the hypocrisy of the Times regarding national-security programs they’ve exposed that certainly puts Americans at greater risk as we negate effective tools to prevent terrorist attacks.  The Swift program story, in particular, should be condemned.  Even in their exposé, the Times acknowledged that the program broke no laws and had caught at least one major al-Qaeda terrorist.  Their defense?  Despite their promotion of the story as a major scoop, Bill Keller claimed that the story really broke no new ground and AQ already knew how we were attacking their cash flow.  So why run the story, if it broke no laws and had — in the NYT’s estimation — already been compromised?

Rohde was abducted in November 2008, at about the same time as the last story Danziger cites.  One could make an argument that they learned a lesson from Rohde’s capture and started exercising more discretion about publicizing kidnappings.  However, their own archives betray their hypocrisy yet again:

If the main issue in kidnappings is publicity, maybe the Times should have refrained from giving the terrorists that kind of visibility on all of the cases, and not just the one that involved its own reporter.

Update: JD Johannes has darker thoughts on this subject.