September 09, 2009

A Freed Reporter -- and Blogging Ethics

So early this morning, a New York Times reporter taken captive in Afghanistan was freed by ISAF commandos. (His interpreter, Sultan Munadi, was killed in the rescue attempt, as was what was likely a member of the 22 SAS. Correction: the soldier appears to have been a member of the special operations support unit [1 PARA]. Sorry.) For what I thought to be understandable reasons, the Times kept quiet about the kidnapping.

Until now, the kidnapping had been kept quiet by The Times and most other news media organizations out of concern for the men’s safety.


“We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the risk to the captives,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “We’re overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened. Our hearts go out to Sultan’s family and to the family of the British commando who gave his life in the rescue.”


The rescue of Mr. Farrell came about 11 weeks after David Rohde, another reporter for The Times, escaped and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


In that case as well, The Times and other news organizations kept Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping silent out of fear for his safety. An Afghan journalist colleague who was kidnapped along with Mr. Rohde, Tahir Ludin, also escaped, but their captured driver did not.

Last weekend, a military blogger I know posted an item on the reporter's kidnapping. Thinking this would be a relatively easy request, I emailed the blogger in question and cheerfully asked him to take the post down for much of the same logic articulated above by Bill Keller. The blogger refused, and then got quite angry with me, accusing me of arrogance -- which, let's be honest, is a little like accusing an orange of being round -- and a patronizing tone. His counter-logic to Keller's was as follows:

  1. It's either news or it isn't. It's not the job of a blogger to protect the media or soldiers or anyone else, and this was news.
  2. You cannot prove that a blog post is going to further endanger the life of the captive.
  3. The press hardly respects soldiers in the same way. Just look at the AP and the way they broadcast the image of that dying Marine.

I happen to agree with Tom Ricks and others that the AP's decision to display that that picture was reprehensible. How that then justifies some kind of tit-for-tat retribution, though, is beyond me. The other two objections are something else. Personally, I still consider the blogger's decision to leave his post up on his website to have been at best foolish and at worst morally irresponsible. And I addressed the first point in another equally poorly-received email. But that's my opinion -- what do you think? Should bloggers or the media refrain from reporting these kinds of kidnappings? Do bloggers have any responsibility here?