Held by the Taliban – New York Times

Here is the start of an absolutely miraculous five-part series by David Rohde, who was captured in Nov. 2008 by the Taliban while reporting from treacherous terrain. His first-person account is completely from memory as his captors didn’t allow him to keep pen or paper. After getting caught in Afghanistan and being transferred to an even deadlier Pakistan – lasting over seven excruciating months – Rohde escaped to tell the tale. In addition to lengthy stories rationed out acrossg five days (I’m eagerly waiting for part four), Rohde responds to selected commentary beneath his posts in the At War blog. Additionally, an interactive feature allows for the viewer to watch video of Rohde describe his experience.

This was the second time he had found himself in international trouble and survived. Rohde was arrested by Bosnian Serb authorities and held for ten days after discovering the site of a mass grave of Muslim men in 1995. His investigation shed light on the massacre of 7,000-8,000 people. What I find so remarkably inspiring is how Rohde simply set out to report responsibly. However, not everyone views his work as such.

Walter A. from Minnesota commented, “But the part of his story that we have read so far shows an amazing degree of naivete regarding the true nature and thinking of the Taliban…”

Ray from New York wrote, “If you read any of his accounts of his previous kidnapping, you get a sense that this guy has no understandings of his responsibility as a journalist and visitor in foreign lands…Westerners like me do not have free reign to go “wherever the story is.” This is both careless and sometimes life-threatening. I agree that Mr. Rohde should pay back all of the funds expended to secure his release. The definition of a fool, as so many know, is to do something more than once and expect a different result.”

Rohde’s answer to the above:

I pursued the interview because of the growing popular support I found in southern Afghanistan for the Taliban. To be fair and rigorous, I also felt that I needed need to get their side of the story. Many other journalists had conducted interviews with Taliban fighters. Two other foreign journalists had interviewed he Taliban commander I went to meet. I was told he was a member of a Taliban faction based in the Pakistani city of Quetta that is believed to include moderates. Spokesmen for that faction of the Taliban have said they oppose the kidnapping of journalists. I did not know the commander I went to interview had ties with hard-line Taliban based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. If I had known, I never would have pursued the interview.

For a refresher in the SPJ Code of Ethics, the ethical journalist should:

Seek Truth and Report It

Minimize Harm (Rohde certainly placed the lives of two men in danger: his colleagues, Tahir Luddin and Asad Mangal)

Act Independently

Be Accountable

Do you believe Rohde’s decision to pursue an interview with a Taliban commander was justified? Was it ethical?

On a lighter note, and since this is for a multimedia class, what do you think of the New York Times’ decision to produce his story by installments? Does it feel like a gimmick? Or, does it make it more digestible for the bite-sized-info-craving reader?


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