Journalist blames inexperienced photographer in Steven Sotloff kidnapping

Though he admitted to me that he had never worked in conflict, [Yves Choquette] was quick to add that he had photographed student protests in Montreal. Now he had come to Kilis intending to enter the world’s deadliest war zone”

-Ben Taub, The Daily Beast

Late last week, the Daily Beast published a piece by Ben Taub titled “Was U.S. Journalist Steven Sotloff a Marked Man?” In the article, Taub describes the actions of a freelance journalist (named “Alex” for the article, but later revealed to be Montreal photographer Yves Choquette) who he says compromised the identity of his fixer on the Syria/Turkey border and led to the kidnapping of Sotloff. Taub alleges that the photographer was reckless in his attempts to enter Syria, randomly searching Facebook for people with opposition flags in their profiles to take him across the border. He told these people the name of the fixer he was using, and a few days later Sotloff and that fixer were abducted just over the Syrian border. Choquette did not enter Syria after hearing other warnings, including that militants in Syria knew his location, nationality, and details of his plans to enter the country.

Choquette outed himself in an interview with the Globe and Mail in which he disputes the allegations of inexperience and recklessness. CBCNews also has coverage.

Sotloff remains in captivity, presumably in Syria, after he was seen in the James Foley execution video. The Wire has collected a few links to stories about Sotloff including remembrances by friends who knew him in college.

Remembering James Foley and other journalists still missing

James Foley was my middle school teacher in a very poor neighborhood and all I want to say is thank you Mr. Foley you helped shape me into the man I am today….This man always preached being open and respectful to other cultures. It’s unfortunate that his openness lead to this.”
-Reddit user wheelchaircharlie

We have been following the disappearance of James Foley since he went missing in Syria in November 2012, a story that has been documented on the website FreeJamesFoley.org, and now we are sad to report that he has been brutally killed. ISIS (or ISIL) militants released a video yesterday showing the beheading of James Foley, though when and where the murder occurred remains uncertain. The White House has confirmed the authenticity of the video and President Obama said in a statement today that “the future is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”


I won’t link to the video (or watch it, myself), but thought it’d be worthwhile to link to some remembrances of James Foley and his reporting. I never knew him, but he was a friend and colleague of many of my friends. By all accounts, he was a great guy filled with kindness and a passion for sharing his knowledge and talents. He will be missed.

The video also reportedly shows another journalist held captive by ISIL. These images have informed the first public reports that reporter Steven Sotloff was being detained in Syria. It is worth noting that information about individuals who have been kidnapped is often held secret for their safety and in hopes of aiding negotiations for their release. This extends to journalists reporting about their colleagues who are in danger, with a reluctance to discuss, report or reveal information publicly.

James Foley, Aleppo, Syria - 07/12. Photo: Nicole Tung.
James Foley, Aleppo, Syria – 07/12. Photo: Nicole Tung.

Here are a few posts that we have been reading after news of Foley’s killing:

  • These Are the Stories James Foley Risked His Life to Tell: Patrick Reis at the National Journal shares some of Foley’s work
  • A reddit user going by wheelchaircharlie recalls the impact James Foley had on him when Foley was a Teach for America fellow in Arizona in 1996. (another user questioned whether it was the same James Foley, but a Teach for America post about Foley’s kidnapping confirms the connection)
  • Writing in May 2013, Clare Morgana Gillis remembers her friendship with James Foley. Gillis and Foley were detained alongside each other in Libya in 2011.
  • Max Fisher recalls working to get Foley and other kidnapped journalists released after their capture in Libya in 2011.
  • James Foley speaks to students at Medill School of Journalism‘s Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture Series at Northwestern University in 2011.
  • Foley’s family have released a moving statement about his life and death, underscoring their love for him and his dedication to the story. (also on the Free James Foley Facebook page)
  • CNN has collected some remembrances (← warning: auto-playing video) of Foley by colleagues and friends.
  • The New York Daily News has also collected remembrances and photos posted to twitter by colleagues and friends.
  • Foley wrote to his alma mater, Marquette University, after his release from captivity in Libya in 2011.
  • Amnesty International has published a report called “‘Beheading’ of US reporter a war crime that highlights ‘chilling’ risk to journalists”.
  • Uri Friedman writes in The Atlantic about Foley’s desire to get closer to the story in Syria when so few other journalists would.
  • It’s also worth remembering the many other journalists, aid workers and contractors still missing around the world, and the many who have been killed this year. Men’s Journal has a good, short refresher about what they call “The Forgotten Hostage Crisis.” As always, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders remain essential reading for keeping up to date on this issue. The CPJ reports that 30 reporters and photographers have been killed so far in 2014.


    There’s also a good discussion to be had about the ethics and effects of publishing images from militants’ propaganda videos. Many journalists, across our networks on Facebook and Twitter, have urged their colleagues to refrain from publishing any images of Foley’s execution contending that publishing images of this act only serves to perpetuate ISIS’ terror. Likewise, social media companies such as Facebook and Youtube have been actively working to block some images from the video from appearing on their networks. We should revisit this issue of visual representation and politics at a later date, along with other relevant discussions that we are having this week.

    We wish peace and healing to Foley’s family and friends, and the families of the many other colleagues who have died in recent months, and to those still missing.

    Related: Revisit our post about what happens when a kidnapped journalist is a freelancer. As war reporting increasingly becomes the realm of freelancers, it’s worth noting how much greater the risk and liability is for reporters not connected to a major news organization.

    Worth a read: Journalist recounts her sexual assault by a colleague on her first night in Ukraine

    “I was halfway through talking about the political situation in Britain when the Very Respected Journalist called me ‘baby’ (really, people can say that without irony?) and shoved his beer-and-whisky-churned-together tongue down my throat. After unironically ‘baby’-ing me a few more times, the Very Respected Journalist pushed me towards his bedroom…. This was the third country in which I’d cried in a shower and checked my body for bruises as a by-product of trying to become a journalist.” -anonymous, First Night in Kyiv

    Last week, Balkanist magazine published an account by a young presumably-British journalist’s of her sexual assault by a colleague on the night of her arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine, to cover the political situation there. The piece is well worth a read, raising important points about what women face working in the male-dominated field of conflict journalism.

    Sexual assaults against female journalists are rarely discussed. And while the public should not expect detailed accounts of such personal matters (for instance, Amanda Lindhout’s 460 days held captive in Somalia involved horrors and atrocities some of which she says she’ll never share), sexual violence against female journalists, such as the horrific attack against Lara Logan in Tahrir Square, is an important part of the discussion of dangers faced by reporters around the world.