21 years later.. some afterthoughts. Richard Pauli 2005
Back then I was a young 35 yr old and I now have some perspective on what we did.
So much luck, youth, enthusiasm and some skill that went in to this.
And finally, I have to express sadness that this kind of journalism failed to take root.
I am older now, 55, and no longer an average, but opportunistic photojournalist. I don't even watch much TV news anymore preferring the Internet as a source of important news.
Hindsight allows a much better analysis of the situation. Much of the images you see were shot in an area about 3 km from the Tora Bora caves, although we did not know it at the time.
Next, much of the reason we got in so very deep deep into the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan, (Bin Laden Land of today) was partly because of the name of the place we worked. Reporter Hilda Bryant and I worked for KIRO-TV in Seattle, WA. Commonly pronounced as "Cairo". So the introductions and the words your heard us say in Pakistan and Afghanistan was that we worked for "Cairo TV". We thought that it was so cute at the time - even though we presented our business cards saying KIRO-TV. Now I am convinced this misperception made things twice as easy as otherwise. Moreover, were it not for this poetic gift, hundreds of simple transactions could have soured and turned.
But mostly we succeeded because of good fortune and because we both seriously prepared to get in and get some news stories and get out. Hilda had done this 4 times before, as a print reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Having moved to television, she mentioned to me that she could get us into Afghanistan - as guests of one of the 7 militia groups fighting the Soviets at that time. I figured that she since she was still alive after those reports, then we could do it again for TV. Hilda and I had been working together in local news for a short while. I found here to be amazingly fearless in asking questions and getting into the nexus of a situation. (A supremely connected reporter, she boasted that she then continued to exchange Christmas cards with retired Mafia boss Joe Bonanno.) We were doing local stories on night-life on the streets of Seattle, I would photograph her walking right up to druggies, prostitutes and even try to corner a pimp in asking about life on the streets.
So when I heard her speak of times in Afghanistan, I was fascinated. We chatted about going to Afghanistan to cover the war for TV instead of just newspapers. Hilda said if I was willing, she could get us there and travel with the Mujahadeen. We moved deliberately toward making it happen.
First obstacle, Local news stations do not send their crews to war zones - ever. Too risky, and stations are too cheap. But they would certainly let me go on my vacation time. And they would willingly air all the footage we brought back if we happen to go there. But we would have to deliver stories with local angles. And they were not sure our health insurance covered acts of war. And they certainly would not release their expensive video camera - wanting neither the risk nor to remove it from daily use.
I had to select a way to gather images: either shooting film, rolling broadcast video, or taking consumer video (VHS). Research I had done (at that time 1984) about combat filming and remote photojournalism chronicled some disasters. Photojournalists wrote books because they were nowhere near their cameras when the fighting started - since it was packed on mules across a valley. So I discounted film gear since it could be many hundreds of pounds - film stock is heavy and fragile - but looks gorgeous. I could do film, but our task was really going to be "run and gun" - quick, opportunistic newsgathering. I was used to it. Broadcast cameras then were bulky and in two pieces of gear connected by a cable. I was also a one-man-band shooter, carrying both camera and recorder- often 40 to 60 lbs. I didn't like that idea since we would be hiking, and I had heard that unfriendlies would often cut the cables between the camera and the recorder. So I was looking at carrying lightweight VHS consumer recorders. The video looked crappy, but I could carry it all myself. Which was the rule for that kind of photojournalism, keep all your stuff tightly under your own control.
Sony Corporation to the rescue... actually the time was 1984 and it was inevitable - Sony announced a "Broadcast Betacam" (still in use today) that was a one-piece camera/recorder unit. Very high quality, Sony reliable, etc. I decided that I had to carry one with me there. So I wrote the VP of SONY USA. Said we were going there to cover the war for a few weeks and would be happy to carry their camera into a war zone and report back how nicely everything worked, etc. Well the win/win deal worked very nicely. They even provided 2 cameras (I used only one) and I gladly sent back a quick bit of footage to the 1984 NAB convention. (Go to the US Embassy, tell em you got this one important tape that will save entrepreneurial capitalism and it will be in the next diplomatic pouch) Some images shot on a beach in Karachi Pakistan of a Cobra and a Mongoose fight, I am told made it to the big screen at NAB in Spring of 1984 - so then I was done with my obligations to Sony... " marketing tape and then just get the camera gear back "
So in the six months of preparation, we each got in physical shape (Every other day was aerobic or weight training), picked up a few words of Urdu, read about the Pathans, got advice from anyone we could, and learned that Afghanistan has always been (and remains, I think) the least governed area on the planet. I would be an electro-anthropologist into a land filled with tribes and ethnic groups and peasants and total wildness. How were we to get there? Hilda knew someone at SAS airlines who dealt us some RT tickets to Karachi if we would just do a story on Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. In those days, that was possible. Ethically, I thought, since it had nothing to do with our main story then, it was fine.
Frenetic work on many stories with local ties and some stretches. Other news stories: Tivoli gardens is much like Seattle Center, U of Washington Scholars of Urdu in a program in Islamabad, Opium poppy smuggling directly feeds Seattle's street heroin, Soviets losing war in Afghanistan. Today I can see the frenetic style of run-and-gun photojournalism that was way too fast and fleeting. I wish I had been much slower. In the 6 weeks we were there it seemed like we were working all the time.
Messages I carried (in 1984):
No, the US will not give you any more stinger missiles. But otherwise the US is behind you 100% and your source will probably keep up the supply of what ever it is you get in aid.
I am so sorry that I cannot sponsor your cousin who wishes to come to America.
A few experiences that I now learn have much greater meaning:
Talking and listening.
Women and flirtation.
Power of ritual prayer.
Messages I was surprised to find myself saying to Muslim hosts:
The Crusades are still going on or at least the residuals are there. Christian vs Islam. Beware. ( pretty insightful for 1984)
Messages we received, but failed to relay in video format:
Afghans are very strong, very tribal, and provincial. Pretty much physically underestimated.
Islam is quite powerful and valid for these people
The Northwestern Frontier province was politically out of control in 1984. (
Skills I was surprised to pick up:
How to piss or shit in a gutter or field with modesty, never standing, and not really disrobing much.
How in a public market, to clean a commonly used glass using a splash of hot water. Then drink tea.
Some conclusions today 2005:
Long term, the US is not going to prevail in Afghanistan - Land of multigenerational blood feuds.
US does not understand Islam, and does not care to.
Post script 2006 Excellent article about Charlie Wilson's war covering this time period. http://www.semp.us/publications/biot_reader.php?BiotID=360 And No, we did not have any connection to him and the CIA, this history was as eye opening to me in 2008 as it is to you now.
2008 Comment: Military historian Gwynne Dyer has an excellent 2008 article about the difficulties of the US/Afghan conflict.
Our 1984 video may be seen in sections on YouTube.