Former NYTimes Reporter: Secretive Drone Strikes 'Would Get Much More Scrutiny' Under GOP

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan's Sunday column on drone strikes featured an an interesting comment about bias against Republicans from David Rohde, a reporter kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008.

Sullivan criticized the Obama administration from the left:

How many people have been killed by these unmanned aircraft in the Central Intelligence Agency’s strikes in Yemen and Pakistan? How many of the dead identified as “militants” are really civilians? How many are children?


Accurate information is hard to come by. The Obama administration and the C.I.A. are secretive about the fast-growing drone program. The strikes in Pakistan are taking place in areas where reporters can’t go, or would be in extreme danger if they did. And it is all happening at a time when the American public seems tired of hearing about this part of the world anyway.

How does The New York Times fit into this hazy picture?

Some of the most important reporting on drone strikes has been done at The Times, particularly the “kill list” article by Scott Shane and Jo Becker last May. Those stories, based on administration leaks, detailed President Obama’s personal role in approving whom drones should set out to kill.

Sullivan criticized her own paper from the left as well, citing left-wing hero Glenn Greenwald.

But The Times has not been without fault. Since the article in May, its reporting has not aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as “militants” -- itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers.

Besides accuracy, Rohde had other concerns, including the surprising one about (media?) bias against Republicans:

“It’s very narrow,” said David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 when he was a Times reporter. “What’s missing is the human cost and the big strategic picture.”

Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer who has written extensively on this subject for Salon and now for The Guardian, told me he sees “a Western media aversion to focusing on the victims of U.S. militarism. As long as you keep the victims dehumanized it’s somehow all right.”

Mr. Rohde raised another objection: “If a Republican president had been carrying out this many drone strikes in such a secretive way, it would get much more scrutiny,” he said. Scott Shane, the Times reporter, finds the topic knotty and the secrecy hard to penetrate. “This is a category of public yet classified information,” he told me. “It’s impossible to keep the strikes themselves secret, but you’ve never had a serious public debate by Congress on it.” Last month, ProPublica admirably framed the issue in an article titled “How the Government Talks About a Drone Problem It Won’t Acknowledge Exists.”