Friday, July 3, 2009

NYT Gets Advance U.S. Military Approval Before Reporting On Taliban Kidnapping Of U.S. Soldier.

In the wake of the David Rohde news blackout, the NYT has quietly disclosed that it gave the U.S. military advance approval of its story this morning by Richard A. Oppel Jr., reporting on the kidnapping of an American soldier by the Taliban.

The NYT also reports that it has promised the military it will not report the soldier's name even if they learn it, to protect his safety. The military did not disclose the kidnapped soldier's identity to reporters.

Oppel writes, in his story's fifth paragraph, that the NYT contacted the U.S. military about the specifics in its story, to make sure it wouldn't create any further danger to the kidnapped soldier. His story makes clear that the consultation took place prior to publication of the story, to get the military's advance approval.

This appears to be a new procedure adopted by the NYT in the wake of its successful efforts to keep the kidnapping of NYT reporter David Rohde secret. In that case, the NYT supressed the news of Rohde's kidnapping and persuaded other news organizations to do the same, citing concerns that reporting his kidnapping might jeopardize his release.

Here is how Oppel disclosed in his story (first posted yesterday afternoon on the NYT website) that the NYT asked for and got U.S. military approval before publishing Oppel's account of the possible kidnapping:

Military officials contacted by The New York Times said they did not believe writing about the kidnapping would increase the danger to the soldier, including any of the details published in this article. At the military’s request, The Times agreed that it would withhold publishing the soldier’s name if reporters learned it. The Times and other news organizations withheld news of the kidnapping of one of its reporters, David Rohde, and two Afghan colleagues, out of concern that publicity in that case would endanger them.

Oppel's story goes on to suggest that the military is unaware of any ransom or other demands from the Taliban kidnappers.

The Washington Post's story on the kidnapping repeats the military's desire to keep the reporter's identity secret. But it makes no mention of getting military assurances before reporting the story, nor does it indicate any promise not to report the soldier's name if the paper learns his identity. The Los Angeles Times story also did not suggest that the paper sought military approval prior to publishing its account of the kidnapping.

The seven-month David Rohde news blackout has become a contentious issue among media analysts who have debated whether the NYT properly kept his kidnapping news a secret. A story in Editor & Publisher yesterday indicated that the NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt may publish a piece critical of the NYT's handling of the story this Sunday.

Contacted by The NYTPicker, NYT chief spokeswoman Catherine Mathis made this statement via email:

It has always been the policy of The New York Times and of most other news organizations to agree to military authorities' requests to withhold the names of military personnel in situations of danger, or until notification of next of kin.

However, Mathis didn't respond to our questions regarding the military's prior approval of details in Oppel's story prior to publication. Susan Chira, the NYT's foreign editor, has not replied to a request for comment.


Anonymous said...

In what world does this qualify as an "EXCLUSIVE"? You read something in the Times? (Otherwise, good post!)


Fair point. We've changed it.