Journalist Blames Photographer’s Reckless Behavior for the Kidnapping of Freelancer Steven Sotloff


It’s unlikely that pointing fingers and placing blame will do anything to help freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who was kidnapped in 2013 and is currently being held by ISIS, the same militant group who executed photojournalist James Foley on video.

But blame is being placed, and there’s a lesson to be learned from the supposed actions of one Canadian photographer initially identified only as “Alex.”

“Alex,” who later identified himself as Canadian photographer Yves Choquette, was called out in a recent Daily Beast article by journalist Ben Taub, who maintains that the photographer’s actions may have been partially responsible for Sotloff’s capture.

According to Taub, Choquette had no experience in conflict zones and was reckless when seeking out a fixer to get him from into Syria.

“He said he had written to approximately 30 Syrians he found through Facebook, selecting those who displayed guns or opposition flags in their profile pictures,” writes Taub.

And even though he found an experienced and reliable fixer in the end, he allegedly informed all the other people who had replied to his request that he would be crossing the border with that fixer the next morning at 10am… essentially outing his fixer.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 1.07.53 PM

Choquette never went through with his plan, but it was that same fixer who was kidnapped along with Sotloff just days later.

The photographer has since revealed that he was the “Alex” named in the Daily Beast piece and publicly denounced the claims Taub made in a Globe and Mail article. And while nobody but those involved can know what really happened in this case, the lesson still stands.

Conflict photographer and journalists lay their lives on the line every day, and inexperience — whether or not that was the case here — is an unacceptable liability when you’re working in what Taub describes as “the world’s most dangerous warzone.”

(via dvafoto)

Image credits: Photograph via The Daily Caller

  • Jim Johnson

    Whether or not it was a contributing factor to the kidnapping, it was an incredibly stupid and arrogant thing to do.

    I guess it is to be expected from a wannabe war photographer sitting safe at home without any real experience with conflict. I mean, really?! Facebook?!

  • Rob Elliott

    Is there a reason you give an account from tMr. Taub, and only link to a G&M article that gives Mr. Choquette account without actually stating it, giving the reader (who is unlikely to click the link) only one side of the story?

  • Rob Elliott

    Read the Globe and Mail article if gives the other side of the story.

  • Grive

    Mostly, I’d guess because there isn’t much there.

    It’s a particularly poor piece, full of weasel words and misdirections. I’m not saying it’s false, just that Mr. Choquette’s argument seems based on not really answering much.

    “No, I didn’t message people looking for a fixer, because a fixer doesn’t advertise”

    “I did not tell anyone about the meeting” – Yet the accusation is not that he told about the meeting, but that he said he had found a fixer, and gave enough information to identify him.

    “I have experience in conflict zones, just not that kind” is completely worthless as a defense, considering the claim was that he thought of a protest was experience enough. Seeing his portfolio, the only militarized conflict he’s covered is the ukraine this year.


    Frankly, both accounts seem to be a bit heavy on the he-said-he-said
    Monday-morning-quarterback finger pointing. Given that Taub’s only
    interaction with Choquette seems to be through facebook, I find his character analysis to be a little weak. As a squeaky 2014 college grad who spent 10 weeks over two summers in the region, Taub seems to have as much experience as the guy he’s critiquing.

  • Grive

    According to the DailyBeast piece, Taub did meet with Choquette personally in Kilis.

    Taub doesn’t seem that experienced either, but then again, he’s working in Turkey, and not trying to get into a war zone.

  • Rob Elliott

    They way I see it is Mr Taub is just using this death to get his name out their while slandering another. If I were Mr. Choquette I’d be talking to a lawyer.

  • Rob Elliott

    In the G&M article it is indicated he posted on a private forum, was contacted and then put in contact with someone. And he then provided Screenshots to the Globe and Mail.

    Mr Taub is working on hearsay.

    From the article.

    “Mr. Choquette confirmed that he is the journalist being referred to in the article because Mr. Taub quotes one of his Facebook messages. Mr. Choquette said he posted to two private journalist Facebook groups asking for help finding a fixer. Computer screenshots sent to The Globe show another journalist privately messaged Mr. Choquette and connected him to an Aleppo-based fixer. Mr. Choquette then exchanged private messages with this fixer and arranged to meet the next morning.

    Mr. Choquette said he did not tell anyone else about the meeting aside from Mr. Taub, whom he met the night before he was set to depart in July, 2013. He said Mr. Taub warned him the fixer didn’t seem reputable. Later that night, Mr. Choquette said another journalist told him she had information the fixer had sold him out to kidnappers. Later, he found that the fixer was reliable.”

  • Grive

    Well, it’s very hard to slander someone if you’re not saying who it is.

    It might as well be a publicity grab. Then again, supposedly they were keeping the kidnapping quiet, so this story wouldn’t have broken out until now.

    It’s a muddled situation, it is. I tend to believe Taub over Choquette mostly because Choquette’s counterargument after self-identifying is so, so bad.

  • Rob Elliott

    How is it so bad? saying that Taub is lying that he contacted a journalist group, was put in touch with someone and then went?

    Or do you believe he went looking for random people?

    Mr Taub giving a story like this a month ago or 6 months ago would have meant nothing. Now that Americans are enraged over the death and the fear mongers in the US new cycle are on it, he will get offers to talk about it, get appearance fees. Mr Taub has a chance for direct Monetary gain. Mr Choquette has the chance to have a ruined reputation.

    No I’ll believe the more logical and believable side of the story is significantly closer to the truth.

    it is much more likely that the fixer he found wasn’t reliable and did sell them out, and Mr. Choquette did make a mistake. But Mr Taub seems to be Sensationalizing.

  • Grive

    I can read, thankyouverymuch.

    The thing is, other than telling nobody of the meeting aside from Taub, none of that contradicts what Taub states. Taub states that Choquette said he had looked for syrians through facebook, and wrote back he wouldn’t be needing the help later.

    You can do that and also ask in private groups.

    Basically, he “rejects” the version of the events, and claims never to have told anyone of the meeting with “X” the fixer, but his proof and his arguments don’t really prove or argue anything.

  • Grive

    He might. He also states that the family had asked for the kidnapping to be kept quiet, so it’s also reasonable to believe that he was following this moratorium.

    As for the “so bad”…

    His arguments supporting that he did not publish who his fixer was amount to the fact that a journalist gave him the data, and that it is “impossible” to out a fixer because they don’t advertise. One means nothing, the other makes no sense.

    Then he claims he told nobody he was meeting that fixer other than Taub, but another journalist told him he had been sold out, and later found the fixer was reliable. Those messages are, I assume, the ones of Taub’s connection. He also says he was quoted, but the only quote is the one where he blocks Taub, which is odd.

    Lastly, it’s the conflict bit, which basically amounts to Choquette putting his experience shooting an anarchist protest in montreal as “shooting conflict”… in line with Taub’s claims.

  • Rob Elliott

    So because he says he didn’t do something that sounds insane.. you are going to believe a guy that is saying he is doing something sensationally insane.

    It is much more likely that Mr Taub is being Opportunistic to increase his income stream.


    Instead of blaming my lax reading comprehension skill, I’m going to blame Taub and/or his editor. Let’s just say that his writing style is a challenge. And while I’m critiquing… I’m also not a fan of first person narratives from the ‘journalists’ perspective. It’s few and far between that this type of writing really works. More times than not, the journalist inserting himself into the narrative detracts from the story. I think Taub is too green to pull this off. (Aside: Is this what they’re teaching in journalism school these days? How I tire of the “everyone’s a writer” blog approach.)

    In the interest of full disclosure, which you’ve likely already discerned, I made a judgement call on Taub at the end of the last paragraph with his ‘blocking me’ on facebook reveal. It was petty. Further, it was written as though it captured the essence of Choquette which is a bit of a stretch and not really the focus of the story. Over all, there’s lots of innuendo but no hard facts to point to. It’s written in such a way that there’s no way to substantiate what has been said or what has been embellished. Choquette doesn’t seem personable or experienced but as none of the writers of any of the stories delved further past the surface, I have no idea if he exercised poor judgement where ‘fixers’ are concerned. At this point, I don’t even know why I read these articles, lol.

  • Rob Elliott

    Does he? Do you now anything about him? Does Mr. Taub? It’s not like he grew up during the FLQ crisis in Montreal. Conflict is different then war. 55 year old, decorated photographers don’t often just run off to a war zone and do stupid things.

    Contact 30 random Syrians is a dumb thing to do.. and being as this is a Canadian I have a hard time believing he did this. His account seems much more creditable.

    Clearly you don’t care about that.. and you want to vilify someone.. so go for it.

  • Grive

    No, not exactly. You’re missing my point.

    When someone accuses you of doing something remarkably stupid (and, I will admit, something that can’t easily be disproven), your reaction has to be to say so and that’s about it. You do not try to prove you didn’t with tangential proof. Better yet, you let it pass and don’t say anything, since you’re anonymous.

    Basically, I do believe someone to be monumentally stupid enough to out his fixer. Happens often enough. I don’t think he sent the others his contact information, but to give enough to cause issue. Everything else in Taub’s story checks out, from the messages that stopped the excursion to Choquette’s use of canadian protest as an example of a conflict zone.

    On a CBC interview, Choquette claims “Only the fixer, Radio Free Syria, Taub and two other local journalists knew of his plans”. On the Globe and Mail, only Taub knew.

    In short, Choquette comes off to me like he’s not the sharpest lens in the case. Taub might be sensationalizing, sure. But I’d wager the truth is closer to his side.

  • Grive

    I’ll buy that about the writing/editing. You made me do a double take and it took me a bit to find the relevant part.

    There are no hard facts in this, unless we get Choquette’s facebook login and he hasn’t done any message cleanup in the meantime. Which means, there are no hard facts in this.

    I’m baffled by Choquette’s actions post-article, though, which is what made me give more credence to Taub. The photog doth protest too much and all that. Choquette also comes off a bit naive and clueless.

  • OtterMatt

    If true, this is one of the most fantastically short-sighted mistakes in human history, and there’s nobody to blame but the man himself.
    If not, well, then welcome to the internet, I suppose. :

  • Grive

    Are you not doing the same, with a failed contestant from the Voice? And newsflash: people run into war zones to do stupid things all the time. Age has nothing to do with it.

    I do know Choquette hasn’t put any “conflict” photos from 2013 or before other than a protest in Montreal on his resume. I do know his profile photo has him in a balaclava and military garb. I do know several 55 year old idiots (a lot more 24-year-old ones, too, I’ll give you that). I do know he started claiming he only told Taub and now Free Syria Radio knew beforehand too.

    I also know Choquette is the one who outed himself, and that brings your whole point crashing down. See, nobody knew it was Choquette, except those who were involved. He ran to the media and said “That idiot in that 2nd-rate column? That’s me. Only I’m not that big of an idiot”. Which I belive is proof enogh that he’s willing to do stupid things.


    It just occurred to me that I could have used the phrase ‘all hat no cattle’ and it actually would have made sense. (sigh) missed opportunities… I agree with you on Choquette’s odd follow up, it’s strange. But then again, he is from Canada. So sayeth (saith?) the Texan.

  • Rob Elliott

    Mr Choquette indicated an “alex” quote was a direct item from a conversation others could use.. so ya he outted him self and likely did so to say Mr Taub is not being accurate.

    Mr Taub is already known for wanting the spotlight, and clearly wanting some level of fame (you don’t try out for the Voice otherwise) The Story Mr Taub paints “alex” as a idiot wanna be. Mr Choquette doesn’t appear to be that, and his story makes more sense then Mr Taub’s sensationalized exaggerations to the point of being untrue.

    Mr Choquette’s own account, (according to the story that you said you could read) indicates at least 2 journalist knew. Mr Taub indicated the Fixer wasn’t reliable and another reported told him she had information that the Fixer had sold them out. Mr Choquetter’s account then says he later found the fixer to be reliable (which was the error)

    So believe he did these things because he came forward to defend himself, after being identified in a way that the general public may not know it is him.. but in a manner that other journalists, or editors might.

    I believe that the truth is someone where else, give that Mr Taub’s story sound ridiculous, and he has a history of seeking fame and attention.

  • Rob Elliott

    Really? I thought you said you could read?

    From the article

    “Mr. Choquette said he did not tell anyone else about the meeting aside from Mr. Taub, whom he met the night before he was set to depart in July, 2013. He said Mr. Taub warned him the fixer didn’t seem reputable. Later that night, Mr. Choquette said another journalist told him she had information the fixer had sold him out to kidnappers. Later, he found that the fixer was reliable.”

    Mr Taub warned him the fixer didn’t seem Reputable.
    Later that night another journalist said she had information.

    That is at least two people…

    So umm.. are you sure you are able to read? or can you only read what you want to see?

  • Peter “Pots”

    That’s what happens now on social media. Everyone wants to tell the world that this morning they are a hearty bowel movement…so anything goes when you are socially inept as well as ill-mannered. Stupid is a stupid does.

  • Grive

    I can read perfectly fine. I’ll also lower myself to your level of discourse.

    I can read. The problem is that your conception of what “reading” entails appears to be quite different from that of the rest of the english-speaking world.

    If you were to read, I said that In a CBC (That’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) interview he stated that. You’re quoting from a newspaper called the “Globe and Mail”, which is the linked one.

    So, in simple english.
    Choquette says to one newspaper that he only told taub, but another person knew enough to warn him.
    Choquette says to another newspaper that only Taub, another journalist, and “Radio Free Syria” knew.

    It’s not that hard.

  • Rob Elliott

    From your own words

    On a CBC interview, Choquette claims “Only the fixer, Radio Free Syria, Taub and two other local journalists knew of his plans”. On the Globe and Mail, only Taub knew.

    On the Globe and Mail, only Taub Knew…….

    In the Globe article he mentions at least 2 people knew.. not just taub. And he doesn’t say only Taub new. he is talking about a specific situation not who knew in general.

    There is not contradiction…. the only person to see it as such is you.. because apparently you feel the need to blame.

    At this point though I’m done with you.. I’ve given you too much time as it is… Go back watch Fox News, and hate anyone that doesn’t agree with them.

  • Grive

    Last time, because you’re obviously oh-so-very-thick:

    “Mr. Choquette said HE DID NOT TELL ANYONE ELSE ABOUT THE MEETING ASIDE FROM MR. TAUB, whom he met the night before he was set to depart in July, 2013. He said Mr. Taub warned him the fixer didn’t seem reputable. Later that night, Mr. Choquette said another journalist told him she had information the fixer had sold him out to kidnappers. Later, he found that the fixer was reliable.” – Globe and Mail (emphasis Mine)

    From the Daily Beast, Taub was the one who contacted a female journalist: “I went back to the Hotel Istanbul and wrote to a journalist in London who had far better Aleppo connections than I.” – Taub, in the Daily Beast article.

    So, once again for the cheap seats: The consensus between them is that Choquette told Taub, taub told someone else in confidence, who warned Choquette. that he was in trouble. According to Taub, Choquette let his plans known to more parties in facebook. According to Choquette, he didn’t, but Radio Free Syria (which does host a facebook group) “knew” of his plans.

    This is english 101. Can you note, how you’re doing the exact same you accuse me of? You’re assuming Choquette is completely innocent and perfectly reasonable, and accusing Taub of publicity-grabbing.

    I don’t doubt Taub is publicity-grabbing, but I also have ample indication that Choquette might not be the sharpest photog out there.