Did The New York Times secretly pay millions of dollars to the Taliban and then lie about it? The startling accusation is being hurled by Michael Yon, a war correspondent and Special Forces veteran. Commenting via Twitter, Yon said the newspaper paid the insurgents "millions" in exchange for kidnapped Times reporter David Rohde:
Michael Yon: Numerous very well placed sources have told me New York Times/associates paid millions to get Rohde release... I knew this while it was ongoing.
The Times executive editor Bill Keller has repeatedly denied that any large sums of money were paid. He maintains that, although the newspaper was willing to pay $2 million for his release, Rohde ultimately escaped on his own. Before making the bold allegation, Yon expressed anger at the Times' detailed coverage of two British hostages captured by Somali pirates. Because the newspaper pressured other media outlets to remain silent about the Rohde kidnapping, he believes the Times is now being hypocritical:
Michael Yon: New York Times cannot expect quiet about David Rohde when they blab all... NYT is endangering the hostages in Somalia.... NYT needs to shut up. They are endangering British.
The prospect of the Times paying the Taliban and lying about it has bloggers in a tizzy. Among other things, it would grossly contradict the Times' five-part series on Rohde's kidnapping. Writers at Gawker, Raw Story and Newsbusters have all mused over the allegations, but the sharpest response comes from Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine, who says the Times need to address the attack:
Of course, there is a lot of gray area -- outside forces, from the CIA to foreign countries, could have paid on behalf of the paper in order to preserve their deniability. Also, the Twitter rant of a rogue journalist who admits that he is furious is dubious at best. But the Times has received flak for their handling of this case, and for Rohde's presence in that part of Afghanistan in the first place. They may have to address this accusation, no matter how small-time the accuser, because the truth of this matter will have repercussions in both the craft of wartime journalism and the handling of international kidnapping incidents.
Update: New York Times reporter David Rohde responds to Yon allegation:
As I stated in the series on our captivity, no ransom was paid in our case and no one, including our guards, helped us escape. I would never have written — and the newspaper would never have published — a five-part-series based on a lie.
Update: Michael Yon responds to Rohde's statement in an e-mail to Politico:
In NYT's public response they freely admitted giving money to Taliban. In fact their words closely parallel information I got before Rohde returned from captivity. That money was given to Taliban has just been freely admitted. Again, this was coming to me while he was in captivity. This tends to strongly corroborate both what NYT wrote, and what my sources have conveyed. The information that I got was that the sums were substantial and in fact months before Rohde returned a very large sum was paid and came to naught, and other attempts failed. NYT's own words tend to corroborate this.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.