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Is this proof enough?
June 28, 2009 9:17 PM   Subscribe

The NYTimes prevents leaks of its reporter's kidnapping from circulating on Wikipedia.

The NYTimes managed to keep a story about one of its reporters being captured by the Taliban off of major newspapers through courtesy, but had a much harder time doing so on the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter's Wikipedia page. The reporter has since escaped and the story has now broken, though heated exchanges on the page's history remain, with edits by founder Jimmy Wales himself.
posted by gushn (100 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
On the one hand, the "inside baseball" journalism has protected people from harm and served great goods in the past. On the other hand, "smoke-filled room" journalism has led to some of the most shameless propagandizing and power-mongering in modern history, with tragic consequences.

At the risk of sounding heartless, I think we need to get used to the idea of it being impossible to keep things off the proverbial front pages. The benefits may outweigh the costs, they may not... but at least it'll be the devil we know.
posted by Riki tiki at 9:24 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Interesting in that it showed a huge difference between professional editors and wikipedia editors: the person reposting the news over and over again only cared whether the news was true, not what effect the news would have on the individual in question.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:27 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Actually, I'm probably not correct. It's not that the wiki editor didn't care--s/he probably didn't know.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:34 PM on June 28, 2009


Wow. I'm not sure how I feel about this, exactly. The secretive blocking of certain information on Wikipedia, that is.

Seems, though, that this sort of thing will become increasingly difficult in the future...
posted by chasing at 9:55 PM on June 28, 2009


A conservative pundit pointed out that the NY Times had no problem with censoring the news when their own reporter was at risk, but went ahead with publishing several stories that arguably put US soldier's lives at risk. Not saying that I agree with it, but there is a whiff of hypocrisy there.

If it's true, report the story, period.
posted by empath at 9:55 PM on June 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Everything communicated is inherently propaganda
posted by lalochezia at 9:56 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


NPR interviews journalistm ethics professor Kelly McBride, whose judgment comes down to "you put your loyalty to your audience in front of your loyalty to the NY Times or this reporter as an individual". It's a really interesting discussion.
The listener comments, even though it's NPR, are mind-wrecking.
posted by boo_radley at 9:56 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd go with didn't care:
16:25, 20 June 2009 97.106.45.230 (talk) (4,779 bytes) (Is this enough proof you fucking retards? I was right. You were WRONG. :P) (undo)

posted by @troy at 10:01 PM on June 28, 2009


No. If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story. Period.
posted by giantfist at 10:02 PM on June 28, 2009 [14 favorites]


The whole I WAS RIGHT YOU WERE WRONG is just really disgusting.
posted by giantfist at 10:02 PM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story.

The stories on US torture policy arguably lead to the deaths of many American soldiers, should they have not reported the story?
posted by empath at 10:04 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, it seems to be that the point was to save money, not save the man's life. I'm not sure why the story being reported would have had any impact on whether he lived or died.
posted by empath at 10:06 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


A conservative pundit pointed out that the NY Times had no problem with censoring the news when their own reporter was at risk, but went ahead with publishing several stories that arguably put US soldier's lives at risk.

yeah, well, conservatives like to "argue" about everything these days in their inimitable batshit style so that's just a weasel word.

If said pundit is talking about exposing torture or other warcrimes and the attendant fallout, that's a different category than just suspending and limiting disclosure of the kidnapping of their reporter.

Sanitizing unfortunate US actions make them more likely to happen again and again, so the NYT's public interest goes beyond the strict +/- of US soldiers lives lost in the conflict.

They're not Pravda, contrary to what passes as conservative thought about them currently.
posted by @troy at 10:07 PM on June 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


Interestingly enough, PrisonBreakGuy, author of the "NOT gonna work boy genius" comment, has since been banned for sockpuppetry. The edit histories of his two other accounts show a strong interest in hostages, political prisoners, and terrorists, not to mention profanity-laden insults toward other users and, of course, Prison Break. What a Peach.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 10:11 PM on June 28, 2009


The stories on US torture policy arguably lead to the deaths of many American soldiers, should they have not reported the story?

That's a good question and I'm not sure I can adequately express the distinction that exists in my mind.

But...U.S. soldiers are part of the same "machine" that carried (carries?) out torture. Rohde's situation just doesn't seem to be a good parallel to the danger U.S. soldiers are put in due to publicity on torture. In my mind there is a distinct difference between the type of information being suppressed.

As far as publicity being a factor in whether or not he lived or died...I dunno. They filmed Daniel Pearl's beheading for a reason. The idea that they would have been more inclined to behead Rohde on camera if his situation was well publicized seems to make sense to me.
posted by giantfist at 10:19 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the NYT keeping this story out of the news is rank hypocrisy. It's no different that daddy pulling strings to keep someone out of Vietnam. They have no problems whatsoever reporting when a non-journalist is kidnapped; it's only when one of their own gets nabbed that they black it out, including using the old boys network to get other news sources to boycott it.

If I were kidnapped by the Taliban tomorrow all the pleading in the world from my family wouldn't get the newspapers to help hide it.
posted by Justinian at 10:20 PM on June 28, 2009 [29 favorites]


yeah, well, conservatives like to "argue" about everything these days in their inimitable batshit style so that's just a weasel word.

I'm sorry, but statements like this are just pathetic and make me dislike reading the comments on MF. It should be easy enough to make your point without ridiculous and uncharitable generalizations.
posted by Autarky at 10:23 PM on June 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


No. If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story. Period.

This isn't about reporting a story. This is about working to prevent others from reporting a story. What gives you the omniscience and the authority to censor others based on "the slightest potential" of harm?

No offense, but I believe that kind of simplistic black-and-white thinking does far more harm than good.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:24 PM on June 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


They're not Pravda, contrary to what passes as conservative thought about them currently.

The New York Times has become a goddamn joke of a newspaper, and I'm certainly no conservative. They were asleep the entirety of the Bush administration's eight years of tyranny, if not holding hands with those criminals. And now their staff were caught playing games with Wikipedia to spare their paper embarrassment. Fuck 'em.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:32 PM on June 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


No offense, but I believe that kind of simplistic black-and-white thinking does far more harm than good.

Strangely enough, my opinion is that the "Truth at all costs" view is the black-and-white simplistic view.
posted by giantfist at 10:32 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


all the news that's fit for you to know
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 PM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting in that it showed a huge difference between professional editors and wikipedia editors: the person reposting the news over and over again only cared whether the news was true, not what effect the news would have on the individual in question.

It does appear that this was in fact just one anonymous editor. Other Wikipedians with registered names and administrators did act to protect Rohde on the same principle, and also protected the page from being edited anonymously -- but by tradition and culture this is something that is initially invoked for only a limited time, so he came back. Eventually it was changed to indefinite protection, so that administrators would not need to watch the page. Then the user PrisonBreakguy took over, perhaps the same editor (but able to edit since not anonymous), and got himself blocked for his troubles.

Once the information on his escape appeared in the NYT, it met the reliable sources standard and was able to be posted.

Really, the Wikipedia system worked here. It would have been much more troubling had they suppressed information appearing in reliable sources, but none were brought forth.
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Justinian If I were kidnapped by the Taliban tomorrow all the pleading in the world from my family wouldn't get the newspapers to help hide it.

Maybe they'd slow it for a day, they do that occasionally, but this is an extremely good point. Newspapers do not consider the effect of stories upon their subjects at much length. Defamation law affords some protection although truth is usually a defense (depending on jurisdiction, but there really isn't a jurisdiction for The Internet), and some jurisdictions forbid naming of victims of crime especially minors, but aside from that, if something interesting and bad and public has happened to you, or if you've done it, you can look forward to reading about it in the news, regardless of the effect on your employability, social life, etc.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:46 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is what happens when WP editors are administrators, and vice versa.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:55 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's one thing for a news agency to not report the news... doing so makes them less credible and biased, but that's to be expected nowadays.

It's another thing for them to intentionally interfere with the ability of others to report the news.

Admittedly, the NYT did this for all the best of reasons. That said...

1> There is absolutely no proof that their actions helped save this reporter's life.
2> They are setting a very dangerous precident.

Should they not report news -- and try silencing others from doing so -- which might be inconvenient for the government, or for the ideological beliefs or business interests of the paper's owner?
posted by markkraft at 11:00 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, it seems to be that the point was to save money, not save the man's life. I'm not sure why the story being reported would have had any impact on whether he lived or died.

Their defense of their actions basically claims that by preventing this from being reported, they kept his profile low and thus prevented the reporter from becoming a bigger fish -- someone with international recognition and efforts being made with regards to their situation creates a greater pawn out of that person.

Think Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:03 PM on June 28, 2009


That said, I really disprove of the NYT's strongarm tactics here.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:03 PM on June 28, 2009


This seemed the crux of it:

“But the idea of a pure openness, a pure democracy, is a naïve one.”

cool... so... a little manipulation is ok?...

Nice!
posted by MeatLightning at 11:14 PM on June 28, 2009


Well, interesting. Apparently the only reason excuse they had for hiding the information was that it hadn't been reported in any 'legitimate' news sources.

I find this whole thing creepy. I can appreciate people not wanting the story to spread far and wide, but I doubt having the information on a Wikipedia page few people visit would have made things much worse. There isn't really any reason why any one really needs to hear about a reporter getting kidnapped, but at the same time newspapers should not be in the business of keeping things secret.
posted by delmoi at 11:22 PM on June 28, 2009


Well, at least the liberal NYTimes only does this to protect its journalists and doesn't sit on a story about illegal wiretapping for 13 months until after the 2004 election, ensuring Bush doesn't lose an election because of it.
posted by null terminated at 11:28 PM on June 28, 2009 [16 favorites]


Well, interesting. Apparently the only reason excuse they had for hiding the information was that it hadn't been reported in any 'legitimate' news sources.

Which may or may not be a reason to keep it off Wikipedia. Their own inclusion standards are "verifiability not truth", among others. Wikipedia has its own standards as to what sources are considered reliable, basically having editorial oversight is necessary. The NYT has its own standards as well. Perhaps the NYT would do well to police its own pages and leave those of Wikipedia to the editors of that web site. The fact that they would push to keep information off the pages of Wikipedia represents a huge conflict of interest, if nothing else. And I like the NYT and Wikipedia, you know, for full disclosure.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:30 PM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I were kidnapped by the Taliban tomorrow all the pleading in the world from my family wouldn't get the newspapers to help hide it.

Well, no, but if the request came from the State Dept or another official body that gave good reason to believe that publication of your status would increase the chances of your death, they would, and do. It's happened a lot in Britain too -- four men taken hostage in Iraq were kept anonymous while efforts went on to have them released.

So, no, your family probably couldn't get it done, but papers do have to balance the darker sides of publication against the benefits and that often means ignoring the pleas of interested parties.
posted by fightorflight at 11:40 PM on June 28, 2009


I see that the New York Times is describing Wales as the co-founder of Wikipedia. No quid pro quo there then, in which the Times describes Jimbo as the sole founder?

Next time maybe?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:48 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


The stories on US torture policy arguably lead to the deaths of many American soldiers, should they have not reported the story?

Not reporting that story allowed the torture and possible death of detainees to go on. Soldiers choose to put themselves in harm's way. Untried, dissapeared citizens of an invaded country do not. Or at least, we like to assume they don't unless something's been, you know, proved.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:49 PM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Devil's Advocate: Perhaps reporting this kidnapping when it happened would have allowed others in the region to avoid being kidnapped.
posted by zippy at 12:07 AM on June 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


From the NYT website linked above: Times executives believed that publicity would raise Mr. Rohde’s value to his captors as a bargaining chip and reduce his chance of survival.

Sorry guys, but raising his value as a bargaining chip and reducing his chances of survival seem contradictory. He's only valuable for bargaining if he's alive, right? Or am I missing some substantive point here?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:47 AM on June 29, 2009


Perhaps reporting this kidnapping when it happened would have allowed others in the region to avoid being kidnapped.

We weren't aware that the Taliban are a dangerous bunch of idiot fundamentalists who are bad for women, bad for children, bad for pretty much everything but themselves? The US State Department and other governmental agencies weren't warning people to stay the hell out of Afghanistan if you valued your life?

Every case is different. In some cases, maybe you should rush to publish even if it puts someone's life at risk. In this case, I don't see that. What would have been the great value in reporting the kidnapping immediately (or at all)? What have we learned from the story?
posted by pracowity at 12:50 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sorry guys, but raising his value as a bargaining chip and reducing his chances of survival seem contradictory. He's only valuable for bargaining if he's alive, right? Or am I missing some substantive point here?

If they think they've just got Joe Schmoe, then they think they can raise a bit of money. If it doesn't pan out, well, they can just let him go or depending on their bent, make a video of his execution.

If they think they've got a high profile target, however, then the stakes suddenly become much higher: partly because they can extort much more money for him, but also because an execution of a notable person is "worth" more too. On top of that, if there's the glare of publicity around it all, the kidnappers can become cornered, and if they feel the heat is on them, rather than slip quietly away and take their chances with what the victim knows of them, they are more likely to kill him and flee.
posted by fightorflight at 1:02 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That is a toughie. I think the argument kind of goes both ways...I get how keeping a kidnapping quiet would make negotiations less high-profile..at the same time if the public is aware, it puts more pressure on the government to negotiate their release. Of course I don't know if the latter is really important because I think the government is pretty intent on not getting civilians killed, though it would be a great way to terrify the general public. Anyway I no longer know how I feel about this after reading that entire article. I figure I'm not qualified to really make a decisive judgment anyway.
posted by mmmleaf at 1:04 AM on June 29, 2009


Pracowity, I guess I should have explained myself better. This reporter went in to interview someone who he thought could guarantee his safety (well, as much as this is possible in the region). Instead, the person he was to meet sold him out. Publishing who did the kidnapping could prevent others from falling for the same trap with the same person.
posted by zippy at 1:16 AM on June 29, 2009


If they think they've got a high profile target

Doesn't the whole argument that news leaking out of his capture putting him jeopardy hinge upon the Taliban not knowing who he was? That seems highly unlikely since they'd held him for so long. Provided the NYT hadn't santized the Internet of all info reflecting who Rohde was, their argument is spurious at best, misleading and agenda driven at worst.

Basically I agree with the premise that almost all information should be free and public.

What almost all encompasses is another debate methinks.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:34 AM on June 29, 2009


The New York Times knows very well that the cavalier reporting of unverified bullshit can get people killed.
posted by moonbiter at 1:57 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The thing that puzzles me is why the persistent re-poster didn't give up on Wikipedia and just post the information somewhere else. People's ability to do that is the reason why censorship attempts are generally futile. Do other means of publication have no value for Wiki wonks?
posted by Phanx at 2:22 AM on June 29, 2009


If they think they've got a high profile target, however, then the stakes suddenly become much higher: partly because they can extort much more money for him, but also because an execution of a notable person is "worth" more too

Yeah, but there is a huge difference between keeping something quiet and keeping something secret. Having a Wikipedia page doesn't make you notable.

Also, a couple of posts up thread were basically insulting the guy who was posting the information. But how was this guy supposed to know that there was some big secret? As far as he knew, people were just deleting it because they thought it wasn't reliable information.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 AM on June 29, 2009


You know, I've been thinking about this awhile, and I really think Wikipedia crossed a line here. There's a difference between voluntarily remaining silent yourself about something, and actively working to suppress the expression of others, particularly when you know that that person is correct.

Regardless of what damage they think it might do, I don't think anyone should have that right, and the fact that they were wiling to exercise it here makes me very, very uncomfortable. I know they think they were possibly saving someone's life, but forcibly shutting people up in a commons-based project to do this strikes me as a line that shouldn't be crossed, even for that.

The benefit was imaginary -- possibly improving someone's chances of survival -- but the ethical wrong committed was real, tangible, and ongoing.

If you were being unusually evil, you could argue that Wikipedia forcibly silenced one of its users to help ensure that their corporate buddies at the NY Times wouldn't have to pay as much ransom.
posted by Malor at 3:09 AM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't the idea that the hostage is of low value just make it easier for the Taliban to casually dispose of him?
posted by orme at 3:39 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So this kidnapping had to be kept hush-hush to avoid putting him in jeopardy, but it's OK to freely report the escape and possibly risk retaliatory kidnappings? And it's OK to publicise other similar incidents? Without consistency it comes across as hypocrisy.
posted by malevolent at 3:41 AM on June 29, 2009


Regardless of what damage they think it might do, I don't think anyone should have that right, and the fact that they were wiling to exercise it here makes me very, very uncomfortable. I know they think they were possibly saving someone's life, but forcibly shutting people up in a commons-based project to do this strikes me as a line that shouldn't be crossed, even for that.

This seems a touch hyperbolic. It's not like they were asking for the information to be censored forever, they merely asked for it to be delayed while they made efforts to address the situation. In this, it's not at all unlike the situation with computer security bugs: it's deeply frowned on in the industry to release exploits before you've given the companies involved a chance to address them. Nearly all reputable security forums and wikis ban posting exploits before the companies have responded, even if they are correct.

If it's acceptable to temporarily silence people in a commons-based project to avoid people's computers potentially getting pwned, why is it not acceptable to do so to save a life?
posted by fightorflight at 4:05 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you were being unusually evil, you could argue that Wikipedia forcibly silenced one of its users to help ensure that their corporate buddies at the NY Times wouldn't have to pay as much ransom.

If you were just being a regular person, you could say that the people at a newspaper were trying to save the life of one of the people they work with, and that the newspaper didn't mind bending a corporate policy or two for the time being if it might help save his life without doing any damage to the overall story (Afghanistan, Taliban, etc.). And the people who work at some online encyclopedia figured the full truth on this minor story (minor unless it's your life at stake, of course) could wait if waiting helped to save the guy's life. If it were your newspaper or encyclopedia and you sincerely thought publishing this little story immediately could help kill the guy, would you go ahead and help kill him?
posted by pracowity at 4:06 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


"If it were your newspaper or encyclopedia and you sincerely thought publishing this little story immediately could help kill the guy, would you go ahead and help kill him?"

Yeahhh... but the thing here is this:

Bullshit premises give bullshit conclusions.

And your "regular person" premise is based on completely unverifiable bullshit.

Newspaper editors are not "regular persons". They are supposed to be accountable to the public, and to standards of journalism. The decision made by the NY Times was irresponsible in that context... and it disgusts me to see them spin the fact that they hid this kidnapping from the public, because our right to know has been put second to their goal of, essentially, lowballing kidnappers on a ransom or possibly avoiding having to pay it altogether.

It would be just as reasonable to assume that bringing attention to this kidnapping would help save lives... not only of the kidnapped victim, whose kidnappers could feel less inclined to kill him because his life is worth something, but also because an educated public makes informed decisions that help to keep themselves safe.

I have friends who have worked as NGO's in Afghanistan on the reconstruction efforts. I also have friends who work as journalists overseas. So I take it kind of personally when you tell me that they and thousands like them shouldn't have a right to know that the Taliban were still aggressively kidnapping people.... because, frankly, there was a period of time there when it was pretty clear that the head-chopping was bad P.R. and the Taliban had greatly cut back on the kidnapping, making jobs in Afghanistan seem like a more acceptable risk.

The fact is, everytime news comes out in Afghanistan about kidnappings, the NGO agencies adjust their methods and security appropriately, increasing security in key areas, or hiring more locals who are less obvious targets, capable of both blending in and, oftentimes, in doing a better job of outreach with the public. These techniques *SAVE LIVES*, the NY Times know that, and they CHOSE to essentially short-circuit that process.
posted by markkraft at 4:59 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the idea that the hostage is of low value just make it easier for the Taliban to casually dispose of him?

They can casually dispose of him whether he's high or low value, but they're not looking just to kill a Westerner. They'd be looking to get a pay-off. If the story remains low profile, then they're looking for cash in a simple ransom scenario. If the story becomes high profile, then suddenly they get to make a very noticeable media point by executing the poor guy.

Also, you publicise this, and you may risk cutting down the good information that gets out. People like these guys do an extremely dangerous job, trying to get solid information to us. Without the sort of journos who actually have a nosy about the dodgy places, all you get is the three-dayers who fly into Kabul, get drunk in a restaurant, and write about the wastrel NGO life because that's all they've seen. Great, but not exactly enlightening. If keeping stories like this low profile means they are more comfortable in doing their job and, ultimately, safer, then I think it should remain low profile. Maybe the guy posting on wikipedia should take a turn round Kandahar himself?
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:01 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


markkraft: the grapevine in Kabul is pretty active. It has been fairly common knowledge in Kabul that there was an NYT journo kidnapped - and rumours always circulating about others. Broadcasting this would not help the NGO workers.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:04 AM on June 29, 2009


As much as I don't want to see anyone else die over in Afghanistan, I think it's worth contemplating what the public outcry would have been if this reporter was found dead by the side of a road over in Afghanistan, abandoned by his kidnappers because the NY Times were unwilling to pay "fair market price" on his ransom.

How would we feel about seeing some other news agency, such as Agence France Presse or Reuters, break the story even as people from the NYT tried to keep it from going public, with the NYT's editorial staff suddenly forced to answer questions as to why they kept the wool over the public's eyes for so long?

Heads would roll, justifiably.
posted by markkraft at 5:09 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can be sure the other journos from the wires knew the whole story, knew where the guy was going when he was kidnapped, knew who he was speaking to and why he was kidnapped. And none of them broke the news. I can only assume the reason they did not was because of professional solidarity, because they knew his survival chances increased by not plastering it across the Western media - thereby allowing them to do their jobs more effectively.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2009


I'm just really glad I don't have to make decisions like this. I'd like to read what the reporter himself thinks about the choice to spike the story. His life was on the line, but he's also an investigative journalist who puts his life on the line to get and publish the truth.
posted by Nelson at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Broadcasting this would not help the NGO workers."

The ones already there? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The ones not there yet, who are looking at a shortage of job openings locally, and only see that there's lots of money to be made by working abroad in a war zone? Most certainly.

What's in Kabubble stays in Kabubble... and that's part of the problem.

The actual facts of Afghanistan are largely unknown to the general public, who are only now starting to treat it like an actual war where lots of innocent -- and not-so-innocent -- people get killed.
posted by markkraft at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2009


And again, YouRebelScum, you are missing the point.

The vast majority of the world's reporters knew nothing of this... only those who knew the guy or who worked the same war correspondent beat would likely know... not that they could break the story if they wanted to.

"I can only assume the reason they did not was because of professional solidarity..."

I can only assume that they'd contact the NY Times for information, only to find that their own Editor-in-Chief was killing a perfectly valid story, shortly after receiving a phone call from the Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times.

It wasn't loyalty, necessarily, that caused this not to be reported. It was fear of getting blackballed.
posted by markkraft at 5:37 AM on June 29, 2009


The CBC did the same thing last fall for Canadian reporter Mellissa Fung, which caused similar discussion:

News of her abduction was kept secret and the CBC and other media outlets did not make public the fact that she had been kidnapped. Upon her release, CBC publisher John Cruickshank said:

"In the interest of Mellissa's safety and that of other working journalists in the region, on the advice of security experts, we made the decision to ask media colleagues not to publish news of her abduction. All of the efforts made by the security experts were focused on Mellissa’s safe and timely release…We must put the safety of the victim ahead of our normal instinct for full transparency and disclosure."

...Some journalists, such as Michèle Ouimet, a columnist with Montreal's La Presse, questioned whether the Canadian media showed more solidarity toward Fung than it did for freelancer Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia last summer. Ouimet wrote:

"Journalists are the first to invoke the public's right to information, but they become awfully sensitive when it comes to one of their own."

On the question of whether journalists would be as content to keep a story quiet were it not a fellow journalist, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno is clear:

“There has been some grumbling about Canadian media staying silent, not reporting on Fung's abduction though it was known within the industry, while her release was being negotiated. I don't know if we treat our own differently. The media have withheld details before, including the fact of a Christian peace activist's homosexuality, which is a crime in Afghanistan. No story is worth imperilling a release or rescue.”


There are more quotes there. I think it's pretty clear that newspapers treat their own reporters as more valuable than other folks whose kidnappings they're happy to report. I also think it's certain that the "advice of security experts" includes pointing out that the ransom will go up if the victim is identified as an employee of a major news organization.

I'm torn on this one, and think it's an unresolved gray area for Wikipedia, which had an easy dishonest out in the "well, no reliable source has reported it yet."
posted by mediareport at 5:58 AM on June 29, 2009


I listened to that NPR piece linked to by boo_radley on the radio the other day, and this quote from the journalism ethics professor about the voluntary blackout really hit home for me:
I find it a little disturbing, because it makes me wonder what else 40 international news organizations have agreed not to tell the public.
posted by educatedslacker at 5:58 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a question: shortly after his kidnapping a fellow journalist added some lines on his wiki about the reporter being sympathetic to Muslims. Was this in any way accurate?
posted by graventy at 6:03 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


More details from the Christian Science Monitor, which couldn't keep the news of one of its own reporters' kidnapping suppressed:

When Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq in 2006, the paper was criticized in some quarters for seeking a brief news blackout. That effort ended after about two days, with major news outlets saying they could not continue to sit on a significant story.

Given that Ms. Carroll’s captors were eager for publicity – issuing a number of videos to Arab TV stations – keeping the story quiet for a long time would have proved impossible.

Keller said that Rohde’s captors had initially asked for no publicity, and so complied with that demand. The captors’ views apparently changed as time went on, with the release of at least two videos that were produced and sent to Arab TV networks, though they were not given extended air play at the urging of the Times.


Poynter's Kelly McBride, who was quoted in that NPR piece, wrote a letter to Bill Keller:

You have indicated that when a life is in danger, we should avoid reporting the truth until that life is secure. In taking this position, you've created a standard that we journalists can't possibly uphold. By telling the story of Rohde's escape, we've already violated it, compromising the life of the driver who was left behind. The driver's life may be in even more danger now from those same kidnappers. If we were to uphold your standard, we would continue the news blackout until the driver, too, is safe.

That invites the question: Is the driver's life less valuable than a reporter's? Is it that he's Afghani and not American?

posted by mediareport at 6:13 AM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Is the driver's life less valuable than a reporter's? Is it that he's Afghani and not American?"

No! It's that he's Afghani and not an American *journalist*... and not just a journalist, but one who works for a major media outlet.

The big dogs protect collude with their own.
posted by markkraft at 6:30 AM on June 29, 2009


That invites the question: Is the driver's life less valuable than a reporter's?

Does he have his own Wikipedia page?
posted by delmoi at 6:53 AM on June 29, 2009


The stories on US torture policy arguably lead to the deaths of many American soldiers, should they have not reported the story?

If by "arguably" you mean "almost certainly did not," I'm with you. See, what got the American soldiers killed was conducting military operations in occupied territory. I don't think that the Taliban and their ilk were on the fence about killing Americans until the torture stories broke. They were pretty solidly in the pro-killing American camp long before and long after that.

Not to mention that it's a completely apples-to-oranges comparison.
posted by Mister_A at 7:16 AM on June 29, 2009


The Daily Show had a great time ripping on the NYT recently, with "End of Times", in which they interviewed Bill Keller.

"What's this?

"That's a phone."

"A LANDLINE phone! Look at me! I'm a reporter from the eighties, making sure that everything's factual. Ahh... you guys are like a walking Colonial Williamsburg."

-----------

"What's black and white and red all over?"

"A newspaper."

"No. Your balance sheets."
posted by markkraft at 7:23 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


No. If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story. Period.

I understand and share the sentiment; but where does this sort of thing stop? Should newspapers always avoid reporting on anything that has "even the slightest potential" to get somebody killed, or should they do so only when one of their own is involved? How should they make such judgments? If the government calls the heads of all the major media outlets and asks them not to report on Event X, because it might endanger the life of Mr. Z, should the press always comply? Only sometimes? Remember, this went on for seven months -- it wasn't a matter of delaying a story for a day or two. And what if suppressing the story saved Mr. Rhode, but got somebody else killed in his place? The notion that keeping the kidnapping quiet raised his chances of his survival seems a little tenuous anyway -- wasn't it also possible that the kidnappers would get frustrated by the lack of reaction and stage a murder video in order to get publicity?

That said, I'm very glad Mr. Rhode is safe. I don't, however, think that this sort of thing is good policy; it's seems unlikely that media executives can consistently make good judgments on the probable results of suppressing news, and routinely censoring information like this is sure to have unintended consequences.
posted by steambadger at 7:37 AM on June 29, 2009


This seems a touch hyperbolic. It's not like they were asking for the information to be censored forever, they merely asked for it to be delayed while they made efforts to address the situation. In this, it's not at all unlike the situation with computer security bugs: it's deeply frowned on in the industry to release exploits before you've given the companies involved a chance to address them. Nearly all reputable security forums and wikis ban posting exploits before the companies have responded, even if they are correct.

The difference is that if someone wants to publish immediately, they can do so. Some still do. It's a voluntary code, not one that's imposed. Nobody is forcing anyone else to be silent, they're merely choosing to remain silent themselves. That's ethical. Imposing silence on others against their clear and obvious will is not.

Again, there's no certainty at all that the silence helped that reporter in any way. It may have helped the Times, in that without a big deal being made about it, they would have to pay less money to get him back, but I'm not convinced it did a darn thing for the reporter.

The benefit to the reporter was hypothetical and unproven; the ethical lapse was real.
posted by Malor at 7:44 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story.

You see, this is exactly the 1% rule that Cheney made sure the Bush administration adopted post 9/11. If there was a 1% chance that not doing something would lead to another terrorist attack, then the administration had to do it. Which led to a lot of bad stuff, including our prolonged engagement in Afghanistan. And this kidnapping. So, you know, it's not necessarily a good rule to follow.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:46 AM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


"No. If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story. Period."

Iran hostage crisis? What's that?!

Are you referring to that thing which ended during the second term of the Carter Administration?!
posted by markkraft at 7:46 AM on June 29, 2009


"If not reporting the story has even the slightest potential of preventing a man from being decapitated, do not report the story. Period."

Newspapers get people's heads chopped off?

That's one helluva paper cut!
posted by markkraft at 7:57 AM on June 29, 2009


Interestingly enough, PrisonBreakGuy, author of the "NOT gonna work boy genius" comment, has since been banned for sockpuppetry. The edit histories of his two other accounts show a strong interest in hostages, political prisoners, and terrorists, not to mention profanity-laden insults toward other users and, of course, Prison Break. What a Peach.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 1:11 AM on June 29


Ironic then that he was right and the Times and Wales were wrong. But hey, that shouldn't stop us from villifying the only guy in the story who was actually concerned with the truth.

Is the job of Wikipedia to allow people to report the truth? Then let them report the truth. As the article notes, the Times was concerned that reporting this would drive up the ransom, not endanger his life. In fact, driving up the price is more likely to assure his safety, because kidnappers can't collect if the hostage is dead. By contrast, burying the story makes him a low-value hostage, and you don't dispense with low-value hostages by letting them go, you dispense with them by killing them.

So the Times and Wales actions put the hostage in greater jeopardy. But again, the hostage's life was never the Times' primary concern. And Wales interest is very clearly to get some validation from a major media outlet.

Maybe Wikipedia sees an opportunity to get in on the game of setting agendas and shifting the public discourse. Leveling the playing field is a great idea, but that's no fun for the gatekeeper. That's power, and the people running wikipedia have shown zero ability to resist the temptations of power. More and more it seems to be a group that is easily influenced by precisely those media entities it claims superiority to, but when the established, old-line media offers to validate Wikipedia, they are quick to kowtow.

Report the truth. To the exclusion of all else. Otherwise you give the power to control the spread of the truth to people you in turn can't control.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:02 AM on June 29, 2009


As the article notes, the Times was concerned that reporting this would drive up the ransom, not endanger his life.

Where does the article note that? Many of us are making the assumption it's true (myself included), but at least we're acknowledging it's an assumption.
posted by mediareport at 8:13 AM on June 29, 2009


Now I can better understand the frustration of the people trying to post pertinent information on Wikipedia only to find it gone without a trace. No matter who does it, or for what reason, it sucks to feel muzzled.

It's probably not a freedom of speech issue. At the same time, it goes to show there are overeager editors everywhere you look.
posted by breezeway at 8:21 AM on June 29, 2009


Rather than castigate the NYTimes over this, realize that this is exactly the kind of ethical dilemma that newsroom professionals face on a daily basis. It's pretty obvious there's no "right" answer here. Try doing it for a living.

That said, the real victim here is truth. When you consider this episode, it's not hard to wonder what else the Times isn't telling us about... including in this very report.
posted by sixpack at 8:55 AM on June 29, 2009


BREAKING... NEWS DOESN'T ALWAYS REPORT ALL THE NEWS... I had been staying away from this thread because I knew I'd disagree with most others here and didn't have time to get into this whole discussion, but the self-righteousness on display here is ridiculous. How did the Times 'muzzle' wikipedia? They made a request; wikipedia and Jimmy Wales voluntarily agreed to the request. No one forced anyone to do anything. That's not censorship. The guy trying to edit the wikipedia page got locked out, but wikipedia isn't the only place in the world that information can be disseminated, and it isn't the end-all-be-all of 'truth.' If this was all about the truth and this story was so important that it just had to be reported on, then why did every other news organization make exactly the same call as the NYT? The NYT was never going to pay a ransom (according to Bill Keller on This Week With George Stephanopoulos June 21), so this decision wasn't about keeping the ransom low. This was about doing what they thought needed to be done to keep a coworker and friend safe, and if you were in the same position, 99% of you would make the same call.
posted by incessant at 9:29 AM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


"... but I'm not convinced it did a darn thing for the reporter. The benefit to the reporter was hypothetical and unproven, the ethical lapse was real."

You're not going to get proof until the poor bugger is dead or released. It's all too easy to holler from the back rows "the truth! the truth!" when it's not you driving up some valley or back street in a battered toyota with a fixer and a phone and not a great deal else.
posted by YouRebelScum at 9:33 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Strangely enough, my opinion is that the "Truth at all costs" view is the black-and-white simplistic view.

Or as I once heard it said, "Tell all the lies you need to in this fucked up world, but never to your friends. That's when everything all falls apart. That's when the bad guys win."

Or is that too simplistic?
posted by philip-random at 9:35 AM on June 29, 2009


BREAKING... NEWS DOESN'T ALWAYS REPORT ALL THE NEWS...

Indeed, the self-righteous huffing and puffing in this thread is a touch over the top. Newspapers frequently withhold information about ongoing criminal investigations if they see A) no public benefit in reporting the info and B) a real risk of harm in releasing it. The idea that they would only do this in the case of "one of their own" being involved is laughably ill-informed.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on June 29, 2009


It would be relatively easy to prove hypocrisy if there are counter-examples of the Times reporting on other hostages.
posted by empath at 10:41 AM on June 29, 2009


When I was a reporter, I would frequenly withhold information simply because I forgot it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:55 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Isn't the real problem here the messed up Rules of Engagement? Shouldn't the proper strategy be, should someone be kidnapped, to consider them dead ?

Never negotiate, never deal, and then run their obit in the paper.

The value of hostages drops to zero.

This just smells like more of that "Negotiate with the Hijackers" dumbassery.
posted by mikelieman at 10:57 AM on June 29, 2009


Ironic then that he was right and the Times and Wales were wrong.

I haven't read through the Wikipedia article's history or talk page, but if the first linked article is accurate, the Times and Wales and editors removing the information weren't wrong. It sounds like none of them ever said, "Rohde has not been kidnapped." They said "It has not been confirmed that Rohde has been kidnapped." Which was right, and a legitimate reason for removing the information from Wikipedia, according to Wikipedia's own policies.

Is the job of Wikipedia to allow people to report the truth?

NO, IT IS NOT. Wikinews may be a place for people to report the truth, but Wikipedia's own policies make it very clear that truth alone is not sufficient for the inclusion of information in Wikipedia: The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. And this is not merely one of dozens of policies and guidelines which are sometimes in tension with each other on Wikipedia: this is one of Wikipedia's three core policies.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:00 AM on June 29, 2009


This is the worst part:
Knowing that his own actions on Wikipedia draw attention, Mr. Wales turned to an administrator, one of several who would eventually become involved in monitoring and controlling the page.
Why do Wales' actions draw attention? Because he has a history of abusing his power.
posted by smackfu at 11:29 AM on June 29, 2009


The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.

Awfully convenient that this case shows how easily the Times can manipulate any "reputable" news outlet to not report a story.
posted by smackfu at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2009


The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.

How's that work when Wikipedia itself is conspiring with the NYT, who themselves are suppressing the news reports which could verify the information?

The NYT and Wikipedia would be a lot easier to trust if the NYT didn't already have dirty hands from sitting on the illegal domestic wiretapping story for over a year -- until AFTER a national election featuring the very same alleged felons implicated in the unlawful domestic wiretapping.
posted by mikelieman at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2009


Is the job of Wikipedia to allow people to report the truth?

It is the job of wikipedia to keep my lightsaber fighting skills sharp.
posted by fuq at 12:11 PM on June 29, 2009


Awfully convenient that this case shows how easily the Times can manipulate any "reputable" news outlet to not report a story.

They didn't manipulate anyone -- they made a request, and the request was honored. Manipulation implies that the request came with a reward for complying or punishment for not.

How's that work when Wikipedia itself is conspiring with the NYT, who themselves are suppressing the news reports which could verify the information?

'Suppressing' the news reports? Governments can suppress media, and corporations maybe (especially if the corporations own media outlets), but that's not what we're talking about here. Media organizations choose to cover or not cover certain stories; suppression requires force, not choice. I suppose you could suppress yourself, but that use of the word would be almost ironic.

Hey - I'm still pissed off too about the media's abrogation of its responsibilities in the run-up to Iraq and the blank check they seemed to write the Bush administration over and over again. The New York Times made a lot of bad decisions and did a bunch of stupid things and bear a significant amount of responsibility there. But this story is about saving a coworker and friend's life.
posted by incessant at 12:34 PM on June 29, 2009


How's that work when Wikipedia itself is conspiring with the NYT, who themselves are suppressing the news reports which could verify the information?

Then it's not published on Wikipedia, just the same as when the NYT suppressed information before Wikipedia existed. Wikipedia does a lot of great things, but it's not a panacea for every journalistic problem ever.

I'm not condoning the suppression of information, but I believe the blame lies entirely with the NYT, not with Wikipedia. Wikipedia's mission does not include publishing unsubstantiated rumors, even if the rumors are true, and even if someone else is actively suppressing confirmation of the rumor. There's other places on the web where unsubstantiated rumors can be published. It's not as if Wikipedia is the one and only place on the web where user-generated content can be posted.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:40 PM on June 29, 2009


It would be relatively easy to prove hypocrisy if there are counter-examples of the Times reporting on other hostages.

Not all hostage situations are the same. But there are cases of non-journalist hostages whose stories the media have sat on at the request either of the police or of government. Here's one example. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find others.
posted by yoink at 12:58 PM on June 29, 2009


Wikipedia's mission does not include publishing unsubstantiated rumors, even if the rumors are true, and even if someone else is actively suppressing confirmation of the rumor.

Huh? Wales and other Wikipedia editors knew for a fact the rumor was true, directly from the kidnap victim's employer. I'm not faulting them here (I'm torn, like I said), but your characterization is a fudge.
posted by mediareport at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The CBC did the same thing last fall for Canadian reporter Mellissa Fung

That may be the most important thing that I have learned in this thread. So, what is the likelihood that the experience of those kidnappers informed the judgment of these kidnappers? What is the likelihood that this incident might make anyone who might be a journalist a more appealing target in the future?

Did the NYT in fact protect just the life of its reporter or also the lives of those holding him, who might have otherwise become targets of a military rescue mission?

I think it can be said that, by acceding to the kidnappers' demands that they not be publicized, the NYT did pay a ransom, and one that may be more valuable to some guerrillas/terrorists than any monetary concession. In the greater picture, this incident may cause much more damage to Professional Journalism than the death of one courageous reporter would have.
posted by wendell at 2:19 PM on June 29, 2009



The stories on US torture policy arguably lead to the deaths of many American soldiers, should they have not reported the story?

Don't know.

But at least we are agreed that U.S. policy was indeed a policy of torture.
posted by notreally at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2009


Wales and other Wikipedia editors knew for a fact the rumor was true, directly from the kidnap victim's employer.

Personal knowledge which is unavailable to the general public is not a verifiable source of information, and Wikipedia policy is clear that such personal knowledge does not constitute a valid source of information for Wikipedia, no matter how certain one is that the information is true, and regardless of whether the person privy to such information is J. Random Editor or Jimmy Wales himself.

[As a Devil's Advocate, I feel compelled to point out that a stronger argument against mine would be that the "Afghan news agency report" referred to in the NYT article was a verifiable, reliable source, and as such the information should have been retained in Wikipedia, in accordance with Wikipedia policies (rather than an argument based on simply substituting Wikipedia policies which you think ought to be in place of those that actually are). I haven't looked through the article's history to see whether the citation is valid, and if it is, to try to determine whether the agency in question is a generally reliable one, which would be my next step if someone made that argument, and if I wanted to put that amount of effort into upholding my own argument, which I probably don't.]
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:45 PM on June 29, 2009


rather than an argument based on simply substituting Wikipedia policies which you think ought to be in place of those that actually are

One amusing thing is that Wikipedia has a policy that lets them do that to themselves: "If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it." cite

The other amusing thing is that the Talk page has complaints about the kidnapping being removed since March.
posted by smackfu at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2009


Unless I'm missing something, the talk page doesn't have much of anything on it anymore...?
posted by kathrineg at 3:14 PM on June 29, 2009


by acceding to the kidnappers' demands that they not be publicized, the NYT did pay a ransom

Wendell, where do you see that the kidnappers demanded that the kidnapping not be publicized? Cite, please? And the US government was well aware of the kidnapping, so it's not like the NYT not reporting the kidnapping was keeping the military from going after the kidnappers.

Nicholas Kristof, in the blog post the day after Rohde escaped, had this to say:

Our instinct is always to publish, but we do withhold information when we think it’s necessary...when I’m writing about Darfur rape victims, I’m very, very careful not to give information about their location that will allow the Sudanese government to punish them. In interviewing North Koreans on the Chinese side of the border, I’m enormously careful not to reveal their identities or locations... These are hard decisions and we may make mistakes in reaching them, but it’s incorrect to think that we protect only fellow journalists.
posted by incessant at 3:45 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unless I'm missing something, the talk page doesn't have much of anything on it anymore...?

I meant this bit:
Who the hell is removing the bit about him being kidnapped? It's confirmed by several sources and even if it's not on the news, doesn't make it a false statment, someone should really look into this. 218.188.3.124 (talk) 02:32, 12 March 2009 (UTC)
posted by smackfu at 4:01 PM on June 29, 2009


the person reposting the news over and over again only cared whether the news was true, not what effect the news would have on the individual in question.

This is a frequent problem on Wikipedia, generally stemming from (sorry, but it's the case) American free-speech absolutists who don't actually understand that the First Amendment applies only to government interference.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:09 PM on June 30, 2009


Or, they do understand that the First Amendment applies only to government interference, but espouse (whether rightly or wrongly) a view of free speech that goes beyond what the First Amendment guarantees.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:21 PM on June 30, 2009


In general in those discussions, not.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:58 PM on June 30, 2009


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