Times Reporter’s Plight Well-Known to Foreign Correspondents

Jun 20, 2009 4:23pm

ABC's Nick Schifrin reports from FORWARD OPERATING BASE SMART, QALAT, Afghanistan

Since the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl in 2002, there have been few – if any – higher profile kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan than David Rohde, a brilliant, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist.

21taliban2 190 Times Reporters Plight Well Known to Foreign Correspondents

Those of us who live in and cover the region knew very well what had happened to Rohde, and knew when he had been traded to more senior militant commanders and moved across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Like the rest of the media, we didn’t report on the kidnapping because of the widespread belief that it would put pressure on the kidnappers and could therefore endanger Rohde’s life. Bill Keller, the Times editor, repeated that belief today (LINK).

It’s not clear whether the fear of reporting is accurate. Much of the media has assumed it to be true since a group of kidnappers threatened a reporter with death if news of the kidnap was ever released (it wasn’t, in that case). On the other side, the media managed to keep the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter taken in Iraq in 2006, secret only for a weekend. She was released almost 3 months later.

In many respects the blackout on Rohde’s capture was much more impressive than the blackout after Carroll’s kidnapping. Rohde’s professional success and reputation across both countries made him a valuable catch, and we heard a constant stream of reports about who was keeping him, how much money they had asked for, and the kind of bargaining chip they believed he represented.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, had brought up Rohde’s name to numerous senior Pakistani government officials during a visit earlier this year, and the Pakistani Prime Minister even released a statement referring to Rohde’s kidnapping.

And yet for 7 months, the media (and the blogosphere, largely) did not mention the news at all.

I’m sure some will question us and ask why we report the kidnapping of locals or even UN workers, but keep the disappearance of a Pulitzer winner secret.

As Joe Strupp, a senior editor at Editor and Publisher writes today: “To some news purists, [the news blackout] may be a bit of a difficult thing to stomach — and for those who already have a cynical view of news outlets as places that report only what pleases them, another example to point to. Or maybe the happy ending will still any doubts.”

Either way, there’s no doubt that the press corps in both countries is relieved to read the news. It is not without risk that reporters try to travel freely through the region now known as AfPak, even trying to talk to Taliban commanders, as Rohde was trying to do the day he disappeared. When Rohde was taken, we all realized our vulnerabilities, and we all questioned our movements.

For us, for the entire media, for his family, and for all his past and future readers – his apparent good health is great news. And we could all use a little more of that these days.

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