Should reporters suppress info following a kidnapping?

Media criticism.
Jan. 10 2006 7:12 PM

The Carroll Kidnapping

What information should reporters suppress? And for how long?

(Continued from Page 1)

Pearl's widow, Mariane Pearl, blames Washington Post stringer Kamran Khan for her husband's death. She equates Khan's Pakistani News story, which quoted Pakistani officials saying her husband was a Jew, with a death sentence.

Returning to the Carroll case, starving her kidnappers of information might save her life. However, that's also true in the case of a domestic abduction, and not many reporters would withhold the news of a kidnapping for very long based on that rationale. No group has yet claimed credit for taking Carroll, leaving the abduction's purpose murky. It could be that she was seized by vicious opportunists, who observed her waiting for an appointment in a tough part of the Baghdad without any bodyguards.

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If Carroll's grabbing was a pure ransom play, planned meticulously in advance, the silence may buy time for a transfer of money or for a rescue. If the intent of the kidnappers was pure terror, the blackout may have convinced the insurgents that they got a nobody who won't produce much in the way of publicity for them, prompting them to release her. On the other hand, it's possible the kidnappers have gamed out all these variables in advance and may be content to wait until the Western press confirms Carroll's identity before issuing—or even formulating—their demands. Those demands could, of course, escalate if the kidnappers were to suddenly make a connection between Carroll and the "Christian" Science Monitor.

Sitting on newsworthy information is an unnatural act for most reporters—some would say unprofessional—and nobody can argue that the kidnapping of Jill Carroll isn't newsworthy. By effortlessly banding together across several time zones to squelch information in the name of protecting one colleague in Baghdad, American journalists placed themselves in a hypocritical position. Didn't their leading newspaper just publish national-security information over the objections of a White House that protests that the story endangers the lives of millions of Americans?

Addendum:Editor & Publisher appears to have been the publication that broke the blackout story in a Jan. 9, 3:05 p.m.,  piece by Joe Strupp. In a Jan. 10 evening piece  by Strupp, Military Reporters and Editor President Sig Christenson expresses his dismay over the blackout. E&P Editor Greg Mitchell also weighs in, providing a ticktock of the blackout.

Also, three newspaper editors explain kidnapping coverage in this follow-up.

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.