Yesterday The New York Times disclosed that one of its reporter’s, David Rhode, had escaped from his Taliban captors after having been held for seven months. If you’re scratching your head wondering if you’ve heard this story before you are not alone. The Times went to extraordinary lengths to keep this information from the public for the purposes of protecting the life of their employee.
Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said this to Howard Kurtz:
“We agonized over [the decision to suppress the news] at the outset and, periodically, over the last seven months,” Executive Editor Bill Keller said yesterday. “Of all the subjects we discussed with the family, that was the one we discussed more intensively than any other: Should we change strategy and go public?”
Keller decided against it, and he was aided by silence from at least 40 major news organizations — including, after a personal appeal, al-Jazeera — that continued until yesterday, when the Times confirmed that Rohde and an assistant had escaped their Taliban captors in Pakistan. Keller consulted not only government experts but also other news organizations that had been through similar experiences, and there was “a pretty firm consensus,” he said, “that you really amp up the danger when you go public. . . . It makes us cringe to sit on a news story,” but in a life-or-death situation, “the freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish.”
For the record, it is a good thing that Mr. Rhode is safe and alive. The Times did the right thing by placing the safety and well being of its employee first given the Taliban’s history of torturing and murdering captives. However, the Times’ conduct in this matter raises the obvious point as to why the newspaper affords such discretion for its own reporters while defending its loathsome record of disclosing United States national security secrets and placing U S citizens and their military at greater risk.
There exists not a clearer example of the double standard by which this newspaper operates. They will decide what is best for their own and what is best for the rest of us. In that respect, the next time national security secrets are exposed by the New York Times perhaps someone will pursue the charge of treason.