Four days after the military's release of his name and a Taliban video, the NYT has this morning joined the media coverage of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier kidnapped three weeks ago by the Taliban.
That's the same terrorist group whose kidnapping of NYT reporter David Rohde prompted the paper to engineer a seven-month media blackout of the abduction, including supression of three videos of Rohde sent by the Taliban to the West.
Bergdahl's name had been kept out of the news media ever since his capture on July 3. In its first story on the kidnapping, the NYT disclosed that it had told military officials in advance of publication which details it planned to report, and gotten its approval. It also said that it would "withhold publishing the name if reporters learned it," at the military's request.
But on July 19 -- after the Taliban released a 28-minute video of Bergdahl in which he mentioned his name and hometown of Hailey, Idaho -- most news organizations published the soldier's name. The NYT included wire stories about Bergdahl and the video on its website, but didn't publish his name in the newspaper until this morning.
A statement from Bergdahl's family on July 19 included a request to the news media "for your continued acceptance of our need for privacy in this difficult situation." That request wasn't honored by newspapers and cable networks that swarmed Hailey, a town known for its celebrity residents including Bruce Willis.
The NYT resisted the Bergdahl story for a few days, perhaps acknowledging the irony that it had gone to such lengths to keep its own case quiet. News of the Rohde videos has surfaced only since his release, and their existence has yet to be confirmed or acknowledged by the NYT. NYT executive editor Bill Keller has steadfastly refused to provide any specific information to journalists about the NYT's efforts to secure Rohde's release.
Today's story from Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, by William Yardley, delves directly into the plight of the Bergdahl family, and the biographical background of the kidnapping victim. It described the soldier this way, in a paragraph with no source attributions for any of its information:
Raised with a sister in a family of modest means, Mr. Bergdahl loved bicycles, disliked cars, loved motorcycles, danced ballet, knew his way around a rifle, served espressos, dropped out of high school, earned his G.E.D., read widely, biked the California coast, fished for salmon in Alaska and sailed the Atlantic. He pursued life and with good manners. People took to him.
Yardley's story also engages in speculation about the circumstances of Bergdahl's kidnapping, something the NYT has steadfastly refused to do in the Rohde case, even after the fact. It even went so far as to reference anonymous conjecture about whether his adventurous personality may have played a role in his capture:
Some people here worry that what Sheriff Femling called the soldier’s “adventurous spirit” could have played a role in his capture. The intense focus on what may have happened has led many people here to try to protect Private Bergdahl and his family, which has refused to be interviewed.
All this, of course, comes in marked contrast to the NYT's handling of the Rohde kidnapping. When media outlets learned of the reporter's capture, they were told by NYT officials that any release of information -- or even disclosure of the kidnapping itself -- could endanger his safety.
Media reports of internal differences of opinion, including a reported strong push by a NYT Pakistan reporter, Carlotta Gall, to go public with the Rohde story, have not been confirmed by the NYT.
“I feel we should write about every kidnapping equally,” Gall told NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt in a column published July 5, two days after the NYT didn't disclose Bergdahl's name in print.