Caught in a Vice

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Britons Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, working for Vice News, are being accused by the Turkish government of “engaging in terror activity” and having connections to ISIS. So far, there appears to be no hard evidence on offer connecting them to ISIS, and Vice calls the accusations “baseless and alarmingly false charges.”

This raises some important and troubling questions about censorship in Turkey and the safety of reporters, but it also shows just how much Vice has changed over the years, moving from a sex-and-drugs obsessed rag to a (sometimes) serious news-gathering operation. In a famous moment in the documentary Page One, the late great David Carr dresses down a team of Vice journalists who he thinks have demeaned his paper’s reporting:

“Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fuckin’ safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn't give you the right to insult what we do,” Carr rasps. The Vice team, chastened, apologizes.

Carr was right—then. But Vice’s coverage of ISIS has demonstrated that whatever other charges may be levied at Vice, it is taking foreign coverage more seriously these days. The dark side of doing this kind of reporting—as opposed to Shane Smith’s scatalogical safaris of yore—is that journalists can end up in hairy situations where their safety or freedom is at risk. Here’s hoping for a quick resolution to this episode, and a speedy release for Pendlebury and Hanrahan.

Update: I elaborate on the story here.