Sunday, July 05, 2009

Economics of Capture

From TechCrunch (thanks to Justin):
In November 2008, Rohde was captured and held hostage by the Taliban, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal. But until he managed to escape, most of the general public had absolutely no clue. To prevent Rohde’s value in the eyes of his captors from rising, the New York Times kept more than 35 major news organizations from reporting on the story. They believed that the publicity from reporting his capture would inflate the value of Rohde’s life, increasing the difficulty of negotiating for Rohde’s release. Keeping 35 news organizations quiet was actually not the hard part - but staving off Wikipedia users from publishing the news? That was a bit trickier.
This story is interesting to me for a couple reasons. One, that the price of a prisoner is derived from the public. The more we want people free, the more the government will pay/do to free them. If people don't know, the hostages are worthless. Compare this to President Carter's headache, the Iran hostage crisis. There were repeated rescue attempts that all that failed (because they were valuable to the captors). Where as these hostages were able to climb over a wall and run away.

The other interesting part is how this story almost broke in the New York Times (the largest metropolitan newspaper in the US) and Wikipedia. I've posted before on how accurate Wikipedia is, but this is proof that they are also where news comes first. Although I'm happy they were able to keep the story suppressed for a while, I'm comforted that it was so difficult to keep such an important story quiet.

1 comment:

  1. I actually thought that article was interesting from an economics perspective not because the people's desires influence their government to work to free a capture person, but because the public's awareness of a hostage increases the value of the hostage to their captors. By not spreading awareness of the situation, the NYT and Wikipedia kept the value of the hostage low, making his escape easier.

    I also found the journalistic aspects fascinating - the fact that the NYT can effectively shutdown all major US news outlets reporting on this story, and Wikipedia is the proven disseminater of news on the internet - and has the power to control internet news - incredible.


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