Kidnapped Journalist Rohde Answers Readers’ Questions

rohde.jpgAs a companion to his moving five-part series about his Taliban kidnapping, The New York Times reporter David Rohde is answering readers’ questions on the paper’s “At War” blog.

Although we have found Rohde’s first person account of his captivity fascinating and informative, readers have lashed out at him and the Times for taking a careless risk that led to his kidnapping, and then wasting the paper’s and the U.S. government’s money in the search and rescue effort.

Others also questioned the Times decision to suppress news of Rohde’s kidnapping. Would they do the same if someone besides a Times reporter was in the same position? Executive editor Bill Keller spoke to those queries on the blog:

“Our policy is that we honor the requests of organizations — civilian or military, domestic or international — to withhold information of kidnappings. When we learn of a kidnapping, it is our policy to reach out to the organization in question or to law enforcement agencies before publishing the information. This is not a policy that applies only to journalists, or only to New York Times journalists. Sometimes, of course, news of a kidnapping becomes so widespread that it is pointless not to report it. Sometimes an organization that has had someone taken captive decides that publicity is simply inevitable, or might help secure the freedom of hostages…In the case of David and his Afghan colleagues, we had an added reason to keep quiet at the outset. In one of the first calls to our Kabul bureau, the kidnappers warned us not to publicize the crime. I don’t know how to reconcile that with their craving for attention except to say that we got a lot of mixed, even contradictory, messages from the captors. At the time, we had no reason not to take their call to keep quiet as a serious threat.”

Rohde also addressed readers concerns about his decision to take a risk and meet a Taliban leader face to face:

“Others readers said I was wrong and selfish to pursue the interview. They said the effort to help win my release wasted time and resources.

I pursued the interview because of the growing popular support I found in southern Afghanistan for the Taliban. To be fair and rigorous, I also felt that I needed need to get their side of the story. Many other journalists had conducted interviews with Taliban fighters. Two other foreign journalists had interviewed the Taliban commander I went to meet. I was told he was a member of a Taliban faction based in the Pakistani city of Quetta that is believed to include moderates. Spokesmen for that faction of the Taliban have said they oppose the kidnapping of journalists. I did not know the commander I went to interview had ties with hard-line Taliban based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. If I had known, I never would have pursued the interview.”

The third part of Rohde’s series was published today, and you can also check out his companion video.

Earlier: Must Read: Rohde Recounts Seven Months In Captivity

Related: Freed Times Reporter Relives Four Scary Days, Death Of A Friend