September 15, 2009

The Price of a Scoop

Wow. Tunku Varadarajan asks some really good questions about the rescue of Stephen Farrell:

That said, let us put moral questions to one side and ask what--now--the duty of The New York Times is. What price should it pay for the trouble caused by its reporter? Here's my answer: If The New York Times really does subscribe to this philosophy--the public's right to know, the journalist's duty to be skeptical of authority, etc.--it should reimburse the British government for the cost of the mission to save Farrell (even if it means taking another loan from Carlos Slim) and compensate the dead soldier's family. (That it should compensate handsomely the family of the Afghan interpreter who died is not even open to discussion.) After all, the military has quite enough on its plate not to have to worry about extracting reporters from deadly contretemps of their own making.


Farrell took a huge risk on behalf of his for-profit employer to give it an edge in the news business. Afghanistan is an extremely competitive beat; and war and competitive journalism make for a very perilous--and profitable--alloy. So whereas one would be loath to corral and stifle reporters, why can't there be some financial incentive for journalists to behave responsibly when they venture into battlegrounds? Why not bill publications for the cost of a rescue and require journalists to give half the royalties from any books they write to the military, in the event of a costly rescue?