POV Regarding War


Revisiting Rohde: Publishing Secret Information in a Time of War

written by David Tate
on December 20, 2010

In February 2009, I learned that Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, David Rohde, had been kidnapped in Logar Province, Afghanistan. The New York Times journalist was trying to score an interview with a Taliban commander within the Haqqani network for a book he was writing and ended up being double crossed.

I was in Kabul when I learned about the kidnapping, and Rohde had been missing for four months. I immediately wondered how it was possible that this well-known Western journalist was missing and I hadn't heard about it. Researching the Internet barely turned up any mention of it. What was mentioned came from just two small Asian Internet news outlets.

After debating the ethical, practical and logical concerns regarding releasing information that no one else was releasing, I wrote a post on my blog about Rohde's disappearance using information based on my first-hand encounter with another journalist and the two open sources I found online. My post immediately drew a negative response from other journalists as well as Rohde's family.

My feeling at the time was that The New York Times, whether good or bad, was in the business of uncovering secrets, not keeping them. I believed, and still do, that the Times was playing with fire by sitting on obviously newsworthy information simply because the person involved was affiliated with the paper.

I think about my decision often, most recently when I saw Rohde on CNN talking about his new book regarding his kidnapping and escape, after being held captive for seven months. I was happy to see him alive, and it was interesting to hear his voice as he recalled those life-changing events. I couldn't help but to feel a connection, of sorts.

Coincidentally, recent developments with the WikiLeaks debacle has reinforced my decision to post that information. I find it hypocritical that the Times kept David Rohde's secret for fear of his safety but then published information from WikiLeaks that clearly will endanger countless lives around the world. No matter how well the Times sanitizes WikiLeaks, information gleaned from those leaks will cause people to die, somehow, somewhere.

As careful as The New York Times was about guarding the information protecting one man, I'm surprised it has taken part in the dissemination of stolen state secrets. This will forever change the world, and in my opinion not for the better — and The New York Times helped. If Al Qaida released the exact same documents, would the Times have made the same decision? Or does the party releasing the information make a difference in what is considered newsworthy and what isn't? To me, publishing stolen, classified state information in a time of war is a crime. I wonder how the Times can justify censoring the news to protect one of its own while not extending the same consideration when it came to facilitating the dissemination of information from WikiLeaks.

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