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Rohde: media face tough choices in kidnap cases

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Rohde’s kidnapping had been kept largely quiet by the world’s media, following the lead of the Times and the urging of the family, both of which were concerned that coverage of the kidnapping would put the three men’s lives at greater risk.

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several government and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger,” the Times quoted Bill Keller, its executive editor, as saying. “We decided to respect that advice … and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

The extended media blackout, its effectiveness, and whether the press is guilty of a double standard – protecting its own while reporting on other kidnapping cases – is likely to be the subject of extended debate in the days ahead. He was already in captivity when it was announced that he was among a team of reporters at The New York Times who had won a Pulitzer this spring.

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.

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