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Milblogger claims NYT lied about not paying reporter’s ransom

By Daniel Tencer
Monday, November 2, 2009 13:30 EDT
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The New York Times lied when it said it had not paid a ransom for the release of report David Rohde, a freelance war correspondent is alleging.

In a series of Twitter statements, blogger Michael Yon asserted that the Times “paid millions to get Rohde released,” and suggested the paper was being hypocritical by having kept Rohde’s kidnapping a secret while publishing details of the kidnapping of a British couple by Somali pirates.

If true, Rohde’s assertion would contradict the story of Rohde’s kidnapping, as documented by Rohde himself in a recent five-part Times series.

Yon is evidently angry about the Times‘ decision to run a detailed article Saturday about the whereabouts of kidnapped British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken by Somali pirates on October 23 while yachting in the Indian Ocean.

“New York Times cannot expect quiet about David Rohde when they blab all,” Yon Tweeted. His next Tweet stated, “Numerous very well placed sources have told me New York Times/associates paid millions to get Rohde release[d].”

Yon continued: “Am told by good sources Rohde is good guy, but still NYT cannot ask for discretion when they don’t use it. … NYT is endangering the hostages in Somalia.”

In June, the Times reported that their reporter David Rohde, along with two associates, had escaped after seven months in Taliban captivity. It was the first most people had heard of Rohde’s kidnapping, because, as Howard Kurtz reported at the Washington Post, the Times had made agreements with at least 40 other news outlets to keep the kidnapping a secret for the sake of Rohde’s safety.

The paper even worked with the founders of Wikipedia to repeatedly remove references to the kidnapping on Rohde’s Wikipeda entry.

“The unusual arrangement raises questions about whether journalists were giving special treatment to one of their own,” Kurtz wrote.

Times management has admitted that small bribes were paid to the guards watching Rohde and his fellow captives to look the other way as they escaped. But the newspaper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, has steadfastly denied paying a ransom.

“If it turns out that the escape was actually somehow engineered after a ransom was paid, it would be a grand lie of Blairian proportions, deliberately sowed by the Times in a five-part series,” John Cook wrote on the Gawker blog.

YON BLOGGED ROHDE’S KIDNAPPING BEFORE ESCAPE

Yon, a former Green Beret who describes himself on his Web site as “the premier independent combat journalist of his generation,” wrote about Rohde’s kidnapping in March, three months before Rohde and his associates escaped from the Taliban.

While that fact may expose Rohde to accusations of hypocrisy, Rohde has since noted that he “archived” his blog entry about Rohde after he was asked to take it down. The article is still available online, though it’s not clear if he had removed it temporarily, or if it had been available the entire time.

Yon has taken criticism for his decision to publicize Rohde’s kidnapping.

“Yon, in particular, seems to have concluded that just because an Italian news agency wrote about it months before, it was okay to disrespect the wishes of Rohde’s family and coworkers for an exclusive,” blogged Joshua Foust at Registan.

Yon has in the past expressed the idea that not all news should be printed.

“I am a writer, not a journalist, and do not track down ‘scoops,’” he wrote earlier this year. “Some things should not be printed until their time has come, if at all. When it’s all said and done, and you grow old and grey—if you make it that far—above all else it’s more important to know that you worked with honor above ambition.”

Though Yon has stated he supported John McCain in last year’s election, he has defended President Obama on the foreign policy file.

“Many readers seem to hold a special disdain for President Obama, and I actively campaigned for McCain, but I get the feeling that Obama is tougher and proving wiser than many people seem to think,” he wrote in June.

 
 
 
 
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