The saga of New York Times reporter David Rohde (right), held captive by Taliban militants for seven months, had a happy ending: Rohde escaped unharmed. But the warm glow of that outcome is now tinged somewhat by the disclosure, reported by New York magazine, that The New York Times Co. offered, in negotiations with Rohde's kidnappers, to pay up to $1 million to secure his release.
What to do about ransom demands is a controversial subject; many believe that paying off kidnappers only encourages more kidnappings. That's the official position of the Committee to Protect Journalists, although there are some gray areas, says executive director Joel Simon.
"In general, we take a hard line on governments paying ransom," says Simon, noting that he can't comment specifically on the negotiations over Rohde's release, not being privy to the details. "I think that certainly sends a message and further endangers journalists. But when it comes to families or media organizations...everyone understands that paying a ransom increases the danger for those who follow. But is it a principle worth sacrificing a life for? That's a much harder call."
Without a doubt, the Times has an obligation to do what it can to bring its reporters home. But does it have a right to do so using measures that could imperil all reporters working in the region? British journalist Carlotta Gall didn't think so; according to New York, Gall lobbied the Times to refuse ransom demands and worked through her own channels in hopes of brokering a deal that would not involve payment.
A Times spokeswoman said the paper had no comment.
Did the New York Times endanger reporters when it tried to save its own?